First Alabama

Union cavalry

Economics As Well As Patriotism Led Alabama Whites To Fight For the Union

by Carole E. Scott


Only recently have black Union soldiers received long overdue recognition. Yet to receive much attention, however, are the 85 regiments of Southrons (white Southerners) who fought for the Union. Thanks to Hollywood westerns, the most well known Souhrons who served in the Union army were a relative handful of captured Confederate soldiers who, in order to gain their freedom, joined the Union Army to fight Indians in the West. That thousands of Southrons joined the Union army out of conviction and fought against the Confederacy has received less attention.

Most of the Southrons who voluntarily joined the Union Army lived in border states or the "white" counties of the deep South. (In the border state of Virginia Unionists were so numerous in its western counties that they seceded from Virginia and formed the loyal state of West Virginia.) The deep South's so-called white counties--some of which threatened to remain in the Union by seceding from the states they were located in--were too infertile to support plantation agriculture. As a result, they had few, if any, black residents. Most were mountainous.

As was forecast at the Alabama secession convention, North Alabama Unionists (Loyalists) came to be called Tories. However, in contrast to their namesake British Loyalists during the Revolutionary War, they chose the winning side. Like Revolutionary War Tories in the South, North Alabama's Civil War Tories suffered from and engaged in neighbor-against-neighbor bushwhacking.

Pro-Union sentiment in Alabama may have been the strongest in Winston County, a North Alabama county which shortly after the War began to call itself the "Free State of Winston." (Indicative of the strength of Tories in Winston county is the fact that there a pro-Union candidate won election to the secession convention by a vote of 515 to 128.) Pro-Union sentiment was very much concentrated in poor counties like Winston located either, as it was, in the mountainous North the sand hill and wire grass Southeast. Support for the Union was the strongest in North Alabama.

Winston County resident James B. Bell appears to have been a typical Alabama Unionist. A farmer who owned no slaves, he blamed secession on large "Negroholders," whose interests it served. He counseled his son Henry to give Lincoln, who in his inaugural address said, "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists," a chance. (The unreceptive Henry lived in pro-secession Choctaw County, Mississippi.)

"All they [slave holders] want," the elder Bell wrote his son on 21 April, 186l, "is to git you pupt up and go fight for there infurnal negroes and after you do there fighting you may kiss there hine parts for o [all] they care." [1] Showing more wisdom than many far better educated Southrons displayed, he warned his son that, because of the North's greater resources, if the South seceded, the North would crush it.

Secession was justified, he told his son, only if Lincoln violated the Constitution. Because at that time the Constitution sanctioned slavery, and Lincoln said in his inaugural address that he believed he had "no lawful right" to interfere with it in the states in which it existed and had "no inclination to do so," Bell would appear to have had good reason to believe secession would never be called for.

The elder Bell's faith in Lincoln continued to seem justified even after fighting broke out. When, for example, Union General McClellan assumed command in Virginia, he announced that "nothwithstanding all that has been said by traitors to induce you to believe that our advent among you will be signalized by interfering with your slaves, understand one thing clearly: not only will we abstain from all such interference, but we will, on the contrary, with an iron hand, crush any attempt at insurrection on their part." [2]

Unlike Bell, most slave owners were not willing to give Lincoln a chance. U.S. Senator Clement C. Clay, Jr., a North Alabama slave owner who probably understood Abraham Lincoln better than did James Bell, said in a public letter written after LIncoln's election that "the cup of our wrongs and injuries now overflows. Since the election of a man to the Presidency pledged [in the Republican Party's platform endorsed by Lincoln] to a war of extermination of slavery, the North can offer us no greater insult, or stronger proof of hatred and vengeance." [3]

Clay viewed the Republican Party platform as a declaration of war against the lives and institutions of the South and its declaration that blacks were entitled to liberty and equality with white men an incitement to insurrection. He was outraged by Northerners branding of slavery, which he believed to be the chief source of the South's prosperity and the basis of its social order, as a sin. The people of Alabama, he--with some irony-- proclaimed, intended "to preserve for themselves, and to transmit to their posterity, the freedom they received from their ancestors, or perish in the attempt." [4]

James Gallant Spears, who fled from his native Tennessee to Kentucky, where he organized the First Tennessee (Union) Infantry, is an example of one of the few slave holders who sided with the Union to the extent of fighting for it. Promoted to brigadier general in the United States Army, he served until February 6, 1864, when he was arrested because of his expression in violent language of his belief that the Emancipation Proclamation was illegal and unconstitutional. Refusing to resign, he was dismissed from the service the following August. [5] (Spears, it would seem, did not realize when he decided to fight for the Union that its victory would cost him his slaves.)

Before the Civil War, white workers in the South, like many Northern workers--particularly the Irish--feared competing with blacks and tried to avoid doing so. Some cities had ordinances forbidding blacks from engaging in certain trades, and low-income whites who owned no slaves often emigrated from states or portions of states with relatively large black populations to less "black" areas. (People with above average incomes almost always invested in at least a few slaves. The relatively large number of low-income Southrons who settled in the southern counties of Midwestern states has frequently been attributed to what today is called "white flight.")

The antipathy of many of the non-slave holding farmers who dominated North and Southeastern Alabama for the slave owners who dominated the Black Belt began well before the Civil War. (The so-called Black Belt is located in Central and South Alabama.) People in the Black Belt attributed the friction between them and the people of North Alabama to envy of their greater wealth. North Alabamians attributed it to the onerous political control of the state by the Black Belt. Resented by North Alabamaians was that the Black Belt's representation in Montgomery and in Washington was inflated by its absolutely and relatively larger, but non-voting, slave populations.

The relative poverty of North Alabama was the product of geography. Geography made slavery unfeasible in most of the counties of North Alabama and tied them physically and commercially to similarly situated counties in East Tennessee. Further economically isolating North Alabama from Central and South Alabama was the lack of a railroad connecting them.

So strong was Union sentiment in North Alabama and East Tennessee that it was proposed that North Alabama join with Unionist East Tennessee to form a new, loyal state called Nickajack. One reason this did not come about was due to the fact that the fertile Tennessee Valley formed the northern edge of North Alabama. There slave holding and pro-secession sentiment was widespread.

Most of the representatives to the secession convention from North Alabama voted against secession. Thirty-three of them refused to sign the ordinance of secession, and during the War several prominent North Alabamians fled behind Union lines, which as early as 1862 extended into North Alabama. Others were prevented from going over to the enemy by being arrested for treason.

As the War wore on, the conscription of men for the Confederate army; the impressment of commodities the Confederacy's armies needed from farmers; extreme hardship on the home front resulting from a scarcity of goods and local fighting; the exemption of some slave owners from conscription; and Confederate battle losses in the West led ever more Alabamians to refuse to support or to even actively oppose the Confederacy. A Peace Society--probably originated in 1862 at the suggestion of the Federals--was organized behind Federal lines either in North Alabama or East Tennessee. [6] In 1863 it helped elect a new governor of Alabama. Although he was a loyal Confederate, six Congressmen this group helped elect were in favor of ending the War at once and returning to the Union.

By 1864, behind Union lines in North Alabama men who were Tories in 1861 and men who had later switched sides in anticipation of the defeat of the Confederacy were already discussing reconstruction. Judge D. C. Humphreys, who had served in the Confederate Army before going over to the Union, claimed that the South would be given as long a time as it wanted to free its slaves. He said, too, that "there is really no difference, in my opinion, whether we hold them as slaves or obtain their labor by some other method. Of course, we prefer the old method. But that is not the question." [7]

During the War perhaps up to 10,000 Confederate deserters and loyalist bands--both periodically pursued by Confederate troops--roamed and pillaged throughout North Alabama. Confederate deserters were also numerous in loyalist Southeastern Alabama. Pillaging by loyalist and secessionist bands and Federal troops hurt the Confederacy by inducing some North Alabama soldiers to desert the Confederate Army in order to come home to protect their families.

When Union troops first appeared on the scene in 1862, North Alabama Unionists began recruiting troops for the Union from among the thousands of men hiding in the mountains of North Alabama either because they were deserters from the Confederate Army or were seeking to avoid being conscripted by it. Instead of hiding, like many other prominent men either lukewarm about or opposed to secession, before fleeing behind Union lines to escape arrest, William H. Smith, a future Reconstruction governor of Alabama, sought to avoid service through serving in a civil office. Subsequently he recruited Southrons for the Union army.

Men living in states where secession sentiment was the strongest who opposed the Confederacy in 1861 and were willing to take up arms for the Union must have been among the most committed Unionists. Fitting this description were the men belonging to what may have been the most notorious of all the Federal regiments composed of Southrons, the First Alabama Cavalry. Sherman's "headquarters escort" during his Georgia campaign, it was the only Southron U.S. regiment bearing the name of the State of Alabama. (There was also a Confederate First Alabama Cavalry.) Mustered into the First Alabama in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama were 2,066 men, eight of whom were black cooks.

The Union army had not a single Southron unit from South Carolina. Georgia had only one. Organized late in the War in Marietta, unlike the First Alabama, which saw action, all it did was guard railroads. Virginia and Mississippi, where the First Alabama was organized, also had only one Southron unit apiece. Tennessee, however, provided the Union with a total of 56 units, 51 of which were composed of Southrons; thus it provided the Union with far more units than did any other Confederate State. Additional Southrons served in units organized in states which did not leave the Union.

Because the majority of the First Alabama's men were Alabamians, and the remainder were from other seceded states (including neighboring Georgia), this regiment's participation in the War created a Civil War within a Civil War. (Confederates would have classed it as a Civil War within a Revolution.) According to both Confederate and some Yankee observers, at burning and pillaging--economic and psychological forms of warfare--the First Alabama may have been the best regiment among those who marched with Sherman through Georgia and the Carolinas.

Not surprisingly, these men's character and motivation were viewed very differently by Confederates and Unionists. In the eyes of Rebels they were poor white trash using the War as an excuse to rob and rape. According to Johnny Rebs, while real Billy Yanks were adept at plundering and pillaging, these home-made Yanks put them in the shade. Not surprisingly, U.S. Colonel A. D. Streight, who commanded the 51st Regiment of Indiana Volunteers at Decatur, Alabama, viewed the troops of the First Alabama in a far different light.

"I have never witnessed such an outpouring of devoted and determined patriotism among any other people." Surrounded by a most relentless foe, mostly unarmed and destitute of ammunition, they are persecuted in every conceivable way ....Their horses and cattle are driven off in vast numbers.... They have battled manfully against the most unscrupulous foe that civilized warfare has ever witnessed. They have been shut out from all communication with anything but their enemies for a year and a half, and yet they stand firm and true." [8]

Various Union commanders, including General William T. Sherman, complimented the men of the First Alabama on their ability as scouts, and their prowess as merchants of terror was attested to by both friend and foe. Union Colonel Oscar L. Jackson, commander the 63rd Ohio Regiment, for example, said that they "behave like robbers and marauders," and in his diary he wrote that he had found a First Alabama cavalryman.:

"...entering a house where there were women and children, evidently intending to pillage and rob, as he was at a bureau throwing out the contents. The women and children were frightened and crying. General Sherman's orders forbid the soldiers to enter dwelling houses or the pillaging or anything not needed for the army. This cavalryman answered me a little short when I spoke to him and as he passed me I helped him out the door with my boot. I stood in the doorway talking to the womenfolks and endeavoring to reassure them, and presently I saw this cavalryman coming back with several of his comrades, evidently intending to take revenge on me and I thought I would have to run for it, but just then I looked up the road and saw my company marching down....I waved my hand to them and they started double-quick. The cavalrymen caught sight of them and fled." [9]

According to one of the First Alabama's officers, Captain Mortimer R. Flint, because most of its men were Southerners, the First Alabama:

"...enjoyed a special faculty of divining the most likely locality that a southern rebel would choose for secreting provisions and to be strictly truthful, I never knew a 1st Alabama who would not share with a rebel sympathizer when that locality was discovered; as to the proportion that the rebel got--well you [Minnesota Union veterans] know how that was yourselves." [10]

The behavior of the First Alabama Cavalry as it made its way to Milledgeville, Georgia led U.S. Major-General Howard, who was apparently unaware that General Sherman had ordered the First Alabama to "burn the country within fifteen miles," to order his adjutant write the First Alabama's off-and-on commander from the Midwest, Colonel George E. Spencer, the following:


"The major-general commanding directs me to say to you that the outrages committed by your command during the march are becoming so common, and are of such an aggravated nature, that they call for some severe and instant mode of correction. Unless the pillaging of houses and wanton destruction of property by your regiment ceases at once, he will place every officer in it under arrest, and recommend them to the department commander for dishonorable dismissal from the service." [11]

It should be kept in mind, of course, that looting was not a Union monopoly. According to testimony from both Union and Confederate sources, Confederate soldiers and civilians, both white and black, engaged in looting as victorious Federal armies approached. [12]

U.S. Major-General O. M. Mitchell admitted in a report to Washington that lawless vagabonds and brigands connected with his army were "committing the most terrible outrages--robberies, rapes, arson, and plundering." [13] On 19 May, 1862 he said he was not responsible for these outrages because, since his line of posts extended more than 400 miles, he could not give his personal attention to all his troops. Where he was, everything was in perfect order. Elsewhere, robberies, rapes, arson, and plundering took place. He asked for the authority to hang the perpetrators.

The particular alacrity the First Alabama displayed in plunder and arson has often been attributed to the fact many of its men wanted revenge for the brutal treatment they and their families had received in Alabama from Confederate troops and irregular secessionist bands. Confederates demurred, claiming that the treatment met out to Tories was just retribution for their vicious treatment of their Confederate neighbors.

Unionist depravations may have been encouraged by General William T. Sherman's belief that "the government of the United States has in north Alabama any and all rights which they choose to enforce in war, to take their lives, their houses, their lands, their everything, because they cannot deny that war exists there, and war is simply power unrestrained by constitution or compact." [14]

The First Alabama was mostly engaged in scouting, raiding, recruiting, and defending the Union Army's flanks--all except recruiting being typical cavalry tasks. As a fighting unit it got mixed reviews. According to Federal Colonel Jackson, there was no fight in them, not a bit. They were, he said, a disgrace to the army. Seeming to support this assessment of their fighting abilities is the fact that on 24 November, 1864 a rag-tag force of fewer than 200 Confederate irregulars under the command of Major Alfred L. Hartridge were able to drive the First Alabama across Georgia's Oconee River.

In its first taste of combat--which took place in 1863 in Alabama--Major-General Stephen A. Hurlbut reported that the First Alabama performed bravely, charging the enemy with unloaded muskets. [15] However, the officer who ordered the First Alabama to mount this attack, Colonel Florence M. Cornyn, evaluated their performance quite differently:

"I ordered," he said, "a charge by the First Alabama Cavalry, which I am sorry to say, was not obeyed with the alacrity it should have been. After charging to within short musket-range of the enemy, they halted for a cause I cannot account for, and the enemy escaped to the woods with one of the pieces and limber of the other, it having been previously thrown down the railroad excavation." [16]

Even less satisfactory was its second significant action, which took place at Jones Crossroads near Glendale, Mississippi. In this action Confederate troops under Brigadier-General Samuel W. Ferguson "scattered the Alabama Tories over the country;" killing in the process 20 of them, including two captains, the adjutant of the regiment, and a lieutenant; capturing their "two light steel guns;" and taking 40 prisoners. [17] Several days later Confederate Major-General Stephen D. Lee reported that stragglers from the First Alabama Tory Regiment were still being caught over the countryside.

That a Southron who donned a uniform of blue was exposing himself to more risk than was a Yankee is illustrated by the capture of two companies of the First Middle Tennessee Cavalry, which was raised in North Alabama. [18] Acting as guides, these companies accompanied Colonel Streight on one of the most inept raids of the Civil War. His men unwisely mounted on balky mules, Streight crossed North Alabama with Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest in hot pursuit. Caught up with by Forrest near Rome, Georgia, many of Streight's men could not be awakened to do battle with the Confederates. Then, hoodwinked by Forrest into believing he was outnumbered, Streight surrendered to a much smaller force.

The governor of Alabama, John G. Shorter, demanded that the Alabamians captured by Forrest be turned over to his state to be tried for treason. They were, he complained, guilty, not only of levying war against their state, but in instigating slaves to rebellion and committing rape and destruction of property. They could not claim, as could citizens of border states, that they were subject to the conflicting claims of hostile governments. They had voluntarily and openly betrayed their state. Therefore, they were not entitled to the privileges of prisoners of war.

U.S. Secretary of War, E. M. Stanton, who viewed Shorter's demand as a violation of the agreement between the two nations relative to prisoners, responded to this threat to the men of the First Alabama by ordering that 800 prisoners be selected from among those currently in Federal hands be held as hostages for the safety of the loyal Alabamians; thus he saved them from the hangman's noose. (During the War 88 members of the First Alabama were captured, twelve of whom died at the Confederate prison at Andersonville, Georgia.)

In 1865--despite Brigadier-General Judson Kilpatrick's efforts to prevent it--the First Alabama burned Barnwell, South Carolina. In a subsequent action Kilpatrick reported that the First Alabama's New- England-born commander and Kirkpatrick's chief of staff, Colonel George Spencer, had "conducted the fight displaying much skill and great gallantry....Colonel Spencer pressed the enemy so close for a distance of seven or eight miles that he was finally forced to leave the roads and scatter through the woods and swamps in order to escape." [18]

Federal Major Sanford Tramel claimed that the First Alabama's routing of the Confederates was "the most complete I ever witnessed. Guns, sabres, canteens, haversacks, saddle-bags, hats, and everything which would impede the flight of the affrighted and flying enemy were abandoned and completely strewn over the ground..." [19]

That Kilpatrick tried to prevent the First Alabama from torching Barnwell would probably have surprised many Confederates. According to Confederate Colonel Charles Colcock Jones:

"...the conduct of Sherman's army and particularly of Kilpatrick's cavalry and the numerous parties swarming through the country in advance and on the flanks of the main columns during the march from Atlanta to the coast, is reprehensible in the extreme.... the Federals on every hand and at all points indulged in unwanton pillage, wasting and destroying what could not be used. Defenseless women and children and weak old men were not infrequently driven from their homes, their dwellings fired, and these noncombatants subjected to insult and privation. The inhabitant, white and black, were often robbed of their personal effects, were intimidated by threats - and occasionally were even hung up to the verge of strangulation to compel revelation of the places where money, plate and jewelry were buried, or plantation animals concealed - horses, mules, cattle and hogs were either driven off, or were shot in the fields, or uselessly butchered in the pens." [20]

The First Alabama finished the War in North Carolina skirmishing in March, 1865 with Confederate cavalry led by Generals Hampton and Wheeler. On 4 May,1865 General Sherman ordered the First Alabama to the Decatur-Huntsville area "to assist in keeping the District of Northern Alabama." [21]

On 16 October, 1865--three years after it was organized in Mississippi--the First Alabama Cavalry, U.S.A. was officially mustered out of service and passed into obscurity. Some of those associated with it, however, did not. Taking advantage of the fact that, as a slave is said to have told his former master, the bottom rail was now on top, they were able to gain public office by appointment or election.

Historically, the slave holders in Alabama's Black Belt had been split between the Democrat and Whig parties. By contrast, North Alabama's predominantly white counties were solidly Democratic. After the War, however, like the majority of the newly-free blacks, many white North Alabamians--called scalawags--turned Republican. The combination of this, the presence of Federal troops, and the disenfranchisement of many ex-Confederates, enabled the Republican Party to take control of the State and North Alabama to dominate it politically.

After the War, poor whites--people typically looked down upon by both masters and slaves in the ante-bellum period--came into competition with freed slaves. The many white North Alabamains who migrated from North Alabama to the Black Belt after the War discovered that planters preferred black workers.

Before the War whites had been preferred for dangerous jobs because if they were killed or injured there was no lost investment as was true if a slave was killed or injured. After the War whites lost this preference. Before the War, too, whites had been preferred in industries which periodically had to shut down to lack of work because they did not have to be fed and clothed until there was work was again available. After the War black labor became, like white labor, a variable, rather than a fixed, cost. In addition, there were no longer ordinances protecting whites from black competition.

Some poor whites were also agitated by the promises of patronage and political and social equality carpetbaggers (men of northern origin) made in order to gain black political support. As a result, some poor whites who had become scalawags pulled out of the coalition of scalawags, carpetbaggers, and blacks which after the War had gained control of the governments of each of the former Confederate states.

According to James M. McPherson, a noted Civil War historian, "scalawags were recruited largely from the Unionists of 1860-1861. Most of them lived in the upland counties of eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina and Virginia, and northern Georgia, Alabama, and Arkansas....They became Republicans because the party promised to overthrow the power of the planter class." [22] Some ex-Whigs living in the Black Belt or in cities, he says, also became Republicans. Poor whites were attracted by promises to educate their children and give them relief from their creditors. Ex-slave holders were attracted by promises of industrialization and a return of prosperity.

After the War, L. E. Parsons, a leader of Alabama's Peace Party, was appointed provisional governor. Alabama's next two governors, D. P. Lewis and William H. Smith, had fled behind Union lines during the War. The First Alabama's colonel, George E. Spencer, was the only Southern Republican to be reelected to the U.S. Senate during the Reconstruction period. However, as result a split between him and Smith; the loss of some of his scalawag support; former Confederates regaining the right to vote; and the seating of two Alabama legislatures, one of which opposed him, he just barely won reelection. Fortunately for him, he was an intimate of President Grant, whom he called upon him for help, which he got, including troops. [23]

Some North Alabama scalawags who supported the aspirations of blacks were dissuaded by unpleasant visits from the Ku Klux Klan. Other scalawags, unwilling to accept social and political equality for blacks, banded together to drive blacks from their counties. [24] Racial flames were fanned, too, because the loss of so many white men led to an increase in miscegenation.

Throughout the South after the War whites residing in areas like North Alabama were those most supportive of a movement seeking the removal of blacks from the state via a combination of colonization and the importation of white labor from the North or abroad.

Like Tennessee's governor, William G. Brownlow, the Greenville (Tennessee) New Era was "...for the colonization of the Freedmen, after we have one grand, universal jubilee, in some country of their own, without mixing, mingling or commingling, believing as we most religiously do, that such a course of policy will be for the best interest of both the white and black man." [25]

Not wishing to lose their black workers, many planters did not share this view. Efforts to colonize the blacks came to nought and, as had been true before the War, few whites could be induced to emigrate to the South, particularly for field work.

The postwar conflict between poor whites and blacks likely came as no surprise to Joseph E. Brown. Georgia's governor when it left the Union in 1861. Called the ploughboy by his planter enemies because he came from a non-slave-holding family in North Georgia, in a 7 December, 1860 public letter he explained why people like those from whom he sprang would suffer if the slaves were freed, which, he believed, the capture of the White House and, ultimately, the federal judiciary by the Republicans would bring about within a quarter of a century.

If, as had been true in Great Britain when its slaves were freed, slave owners were compensated, as Brown believed was fair, for the loss of their slaves, non-slave-owners would have to pay high taxes to raise the necessary funds. This would be true even if, as was unlikely, Brown thought, Northerners agreed to bear part of the cost.

If the slaves were returned to Africa instead, financing their transportation; the acquisition of land for them there; and supporting them until they could get established would significantly further increase the tax burden on non-slave-owners. If they were not sent to Africa, they would remain in the South, Brown said, because some of the Northern States had already passed laws prohibiting free blacks from coming into their limits.

Brown claimed that even if slave owners were not compensated for the loss of their slaves, and the slaves were not returned to Africa, non-slave owners would suffer economic harm. This was because money that still relatively wealthy Southerners would previously have invested in slaves would, instead, be used to buy land. The wealthy, Brown said, would soon buy all the lands in the South worth cultivating. Then poor whites would all become tenants like they were in England, the New England States, and in the other old countries where slavery did not exist.

The freed slaves, too, would become tenants, and they would have to begin life as free men miserably poor, with neither land, money nor provisions. They must, therefore, become day laborers for their old masters and come into competition with poor white laborers. This competition between blacks and whites would, he believed, reduce whites' wages. He also said it was a mistake to allow other people's property to be taken from them. [26]

According to economic historian Gavin Wright, Governor Brown's forecast was pretty accurate. Before the War the South was not a low wage region. Afterwards, for the unskilled, it was, and unskilled whites' wages were depressed almost to the level of those paid blacks. (Discrimination greatly limited blacks' access to skilled occupations.) Slavelords who, he says, had sought before the War to maximize the value of the output of their slave workers, and, therefore, their value, after the War became landlords desiring to maximize the value of the output of their land.

Because world demand for cotton, the most profitable crop for Southerners to grow, did not keep up with the expansion of output, returns from Southern agriculture were lower than in the rest of the nation. This held down what unskilled Southern workers could command in nonagricultural jobs. [27] In Alabama after the War "...more and more acres fell under the control of large planters, new industrialists, or insurance and mortgage companies. As a consequence, many people simply gave up and moved West." [28]

In the best of all possible worlds, after the evil of slavery was eliminated, everyone would have lived happily ever after. In the real world, however, some people suffered. In large part this was due to the method, war, by which slavery was abolished. (It was abolished in the rest of the world without war.)

In Alabama, claims historian Wayne Flynt in Proud But Poor, "virtually every decade from the Civil War to the Great Depression brought increases in farm tenancy and industrial indigence. No other cycle in American history resulted in so sustained and extensive downward mobility for so numerous a population....[and] "the first step in the downward cycle was the Civil War." [29]

"After adopting the revised constitution of 1865 by the same method the Unionists had condemned in the secession crisis of 1861--by proclamation"--in late 1865 Alabama elected a Northern Alabama Unionist, Robert M. Patton, governor. [31] Because representation in the legislature was based on white population alone, the political power of Northern Alabama was much greater than it had been before the War. This power was short lived, as blacks soon came to be counted again, and Unionists who had avoided serving in the Confederate Army by holding holding positions in State government were disenfranchised along with pro-Confederates.

It is not always easy to figure out what motivates people. Consider, for example, the Mobile mulatto who told the Confederacy's Secretary of War that he could:

"...raise a battalion...of Creoles who are mixed blooded; all of them free under the treaty with France by which Louisiana was acquired. They are mostly property holders, owning slaves, and a peaceable, orderly class, and capable of doing good service. They are true to the South as the pure white races. As yet none of them have gone to the war but have been anxious to do so. If such a battalion can be received, I can raise it in a few days..." [30]

It is clear that in Alabama and the rest of the South the behavior of both Secessionists and Unionists was consistent with their economic or lack of economic self interest. Therefore, one cannot escape concluding they were, at least part, economically motivated in taking the course of action they did. Because slave owners feared that the Republicans would eventually deprive them of their slaves and possibly incite insurrection in the process, they became secessionists. Non-slave owning whites living in overwhelmingly white counties had no slaves to lose and little fear of being murdered in their beds by slaves as had occurred in Haiti. Some of them, too, seem to have doubted that slavery would actually be abolished. Therefore, it is not surprising that many of them either supported the Union or refrained from giving support to the Confederacy.

Undoubtedly it was because for poor whites living in North Alabama behind Union lines or in areas where fighting was going on supporting the Union increasingly had the greater potential for providing economic gains and preventing further economic losses, that ever more of them became Unionists. (Secessionists' property was targeted by Federal troops and Unionists' protected.) Economic considerations also seemed to have played a role in causing many Unionists to desert the post-war alliance of scalawags, carpetbaggers, and blacks.

Go to Sgt. Josiah Wilson's account of his service in the First Alabama. This account and the picture of Col. Spencer was provided by E. D. Wilson.

Glenda McWhirter Todd has written a book about the First Alabama entitled "First Alabama Cavalry, USA--Homage to Patriotism".


  1. Hugh C. Bailey, "Disloyalty in Confederate Alabama" (Journal of Southern History, November 1957), p. 525. See also "Disaffection in the Alabama Hill Country, 1861" (Civil War History, June 1958), pp. 183 -193.
  2. Comments of Representative C. A. Wickliffe of Kentucky in the Appendix of the 1863 Congressional Globe.
  3. Ruth Ketring Nuermberger, The Clays of Alabama (Lexington, 1958), p. 178.
  4. Ibid., p. 182.
  5. Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Blue (Baton Rouge, 1964), pp. 466 - 467.
  6. Georgia Lee Tatum, Disloyalty in the Confederacy (Chapel Hill, 1934), p. 26.
  7. Walter L. Fleming, Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama (New York, 1905), p. 145.
  8. William Stanley Hoole, Alabama Tories, The First Alabama Cavalry, U.S.A., 1862 - 1865 (Tuscaloosa, 1960), p. 8.
  9. William R. Scaife, The March to the Sea (Atlanta, 1989), p. 50.
  10. Hoole, Op. Cit., p. 42.
  11. Ibid., p. 40.
  12. Stephen V. Ash, "Poor Whites in the Occupied South 1861 - 1865" (The Journal of Southern History, February 1991), pp. 43, 49, 50, 53, and 54.
  13. Tatum, Op. Cit., p. 55 -56.
  14. Fleming, Op. Cit., p. 76.
  15. Hoole, Op. Cit., pp. 26 - 27.
  16. Hoole, Ibid., p. 30.
  17. War of the Rebellion Official Records, Series 1, Part 1, XXIII, p. 253.
  18. Ibid., XXIII, p. 281.
  19. Hoole, Op. Cit.., p. 44.
  20. Scaife, Op. Cit., p. iv.
  21. Hoole, Op. Cit., p. 49.
  22. James M. McPherson, Ordeal By Fire, The Civil War and Reconstruction (New York, 1982), p. 558.
  23. John Witherspoon DuBose and James K. Greer, Alabama's Tragic Decade, 1861 - 1874 (Birmingham, 1940), p. 245.
  24. Fleming, Op. Cit., p. 681, 693.
  25. Robert Tracy McKenzie, " Freedmen and the Soil in the Upper South: The Reorganization of Tennessee Agriculture, 1865 - 1880," The Journal of Southern History (February 1993), p.68.
  26. William W. Freehling and Craig M. Simpson (Eds.), Secession Debated, Georgia Showdown in 1860 (New York, 1992), pp. 145 - 159.
  27. Gavin Wright, Old South, New South (New York, 1986), pp. 33 - 34; 56 - 60; 67 - 70.
  28. Wayne Flynt, Poor But Proud, Alabama's Poor Whites (Tuscaloosa, 1989), p. 50.
  29. Ibid., p. 36.
  30. Sarah Woolfolk Wiggins, The Scalawag in Alabama Politics, 1865-1881 (Tuscaloosa, 1977), p. 13.
  31. James Benson Sellers, Slavery in Alabama (University, Alabama, 1950), pp. 387 - 388.