Daily Archives: 10 February 2023

Southern White Union Army Recruits

From Bitterly Divided: The South’s Inner Civil War, by David Williams (New Press, 2010), Kindle pp. 151-152:

David R. Snelling of Baldwin County, Georgia, had deeply personal reasons for his Union stand. David’s father, William, a man of modest means, died of fever when David was five. His mother, Elizabeth Lester Snelling, whose wealthy family had never approved of her marrying a poor man, was given only a small plot of land adjoining the large plantations her brothers owned. When Elizabeth died a few years later, young David was taken in by his uncle, David Lester. While Lester sent his own sons off to school, he put David to work in the fields along with the slaves. Treated much as a slave himself, David came to detest slavery. Threatened with conscription in the spring of 1862, David joined the Confederate army. That summer, he deserted and joined the Federals. Two years later, as a lieutenant in Sherman’s cavalry escort during the March to the Sea, David went out of his way to lead a raid against his uncle’s plantation a few miles from the state capital of Milledgeville. His troops seized as many provisions as they could carry and destroyed the cotton gin.

Though most Confederate soldiers were nonslaveholders and poorer than their slaveholding neighbors, white southerners who served the Union were most often poorer still. In the North Fork district of western North Carolina’s Ashe County, a comparison of thirty-four Union and forty-two Confederate volunteers shows that holdings in real and personal property among Confederates were more than twice that of their Union counterparts. In eastern North Carolina, the difference was even more dramatic. In Washington County, which supplied nearly equal numbers of troops to the Union and the Confederacy, Union soldiers were fourteen times poorer than those in the Confederate army. Such figures reflect a class-based Unionism that made itself felt all across the South. It was reflected too among members of the Union’s First Alabama Cavalry, recruited from poor farmers in the northern part of the state, who relished the opportunity to sack plantations during Sherman’s March to the Sea.

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