Which side of the Civil War would you be on if you had to choose now? Would you join the Union or the Confederacy? More importantly, HOW would you make that choice? Would you choose because of where you live? Because of how you were raised? Because you like the uniforms?
Believe it or not, and somewhat ironically, I’ve always loved this question because I could never really answer it one way or the other. That is, until I started doing GENEALOGY.
Once I uncovered my family history, it all became clear why I loved the Confederacy for their fighting spirit and ‘cool’ attitude while at the same time I always admired the Union for, well, being an unbreakable union.
How would your family history inform your decision on who you would fight for?
What makes genealogy and family history so powerful is what it teaches us about ourselves and the context it creates for our own self-image. What rattled me to the core when I first started investigating who my ancestors were was that the ‘context’ didn’t seem to make sense!
ALL of my ancestors in the US at the time of the Civil War lived in the SOUTH. They were spread out from Virginia to North Carolina to Tennessee to Alabama, and naturally I expected all of them to have served the Confederacy. That didn’t turn out to be the case.
Of the 6 ancestors that I know about that declared their loyalties during the Civil War, here’s a quick summary of 4 of them which serves to illustrate just how complex this war was. To me, the Civil War was not as neat and clean and spun dry as we all have been led to believe, which is why I’ve dedicated so much time to writing about it. This war has to be learned in reverse: from the individuals that fought it out to the sides they fought for.
- Elijah H. was born in born in Fayette County, Alabama in 1832 and fought for the 26th Alabama Infantry Regiment for the CONFEDERACY. He fought along side his 5 brothers with distinction. His fathers fought in the Revolutionary War.
- David M. was born in Franklin County, Georgia but moved to Walker County, Alabama at a young age. His older brother was a Brigadier General and served in the State Legislature for 24 years. His fathers fought in the War of 1812 and the Revolutionary War. David M. fought for the UNION and has a very unique story!
- Joseph Henry C. was born in 1817 in Haywood County, North Carolina and fought for Company G of the Tennessee 3rd Cavalry for the UNION side. Joseph Henry was captured and suffered for 18 months in the Civil War’s worst prison, Cahaba Prison in Alabama. He was eventually lost on the Steamer Sultana in the worst maritime disaster in US history!
- John H. was born in Cocke County, Tennessee in 1825 and served as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Tennessee 4th Cavalry Regiment for the UNION. He gave his life in service to his country.
Even though we stamp labels on people like UNION or CONFEDERATE from a historical distance, the times dictated each person’s loyalties. For each of my Union ancestors fighting in the South, each had a brother or son who chose to fight for the Confederacy! Such was the times and the iron will of mens’ determination and conviction.
I love the idea of a free South, the ability of a common heritage to provide a sense of unity and pride in a connection to the land. I, however, do not believe that warrants separation. We were formed as a union and should stay together as a union; maybe that’s not a very ‘Southern’ thing to say especially in light of sayings like “the South will rise again.” I think the South should rise again, if only to protect our Confederate monuments!