Thursday, July 31, 2008

Lincolnites and Rebels by Robert Tracy McKenzie

Lincolnites and Rebels: A Divided Town in the American Civil War
By Robert Tracy McKenzie

In Lincolnites and Rebels Robert Tracy McKenzie does a good job of explaining the divided loyalties of Knoxville, Tennessee. The typical story of Knoxville and East Tennessee is of a Unionist area surrounded by Confederates. In fact McKenzie shows that Knoxville was more a Confederate town surrounded by Unionist East Tennessee.

McKenzie used a wealth of primary resources to decipher the loyalties of Knoxville individuals. He was fortunate in that both sides occupied Knoxville for significant periods of the war. When either side was in control of the town they kept track of the population’s loyalties through various methods. These methods included such simple things as army enlistments, public statements, loyalty oaths, pardon applications and surveillance. Additionally once the Union regained the town they asked the local populace how various citizens acted under Confederate rule so that no contracts were given to Confederate sympathizers over Unionists.

McKenzie says that he can pinpoint the loyalties of483 adults in 323 households, which was roughly half the population of Knoxville. There probably is not as much data available for any other city in an area of divided loyalties in the Civil War. He went to great efforts to determine if there was any correlation between social status, church membership, economic status or slave ownership and what side an individual would choose. He came to the conclusion that there was no one thing that separated them. In general Unionists tended to be less wealthy and have blue collar jobs while Confederates tended to have more wealth and work in white collar jobs. But McKenzie points out that the average Unionist and the average Confederate were very similar.

The book is divided pretty evenly as roughly a third is spent describing Knoxville during the election season and its actions during the secession crisis. The second third covers its time as a Confederate city, which at times seemed like occupation. In this section the activities of William G. Brownlow and his banishment to Union lines. These first two sections is where McKenzie digs deepest into why someone would side with the Union or the Confederacy. The last third of the book covers Union occupation and the Reconstruction period, although this mainly deals with events through 1866. This third section is where McKenzie also describes the 1863 Knoxville campaign. I would have liked a more thorough examination of the campaign than the 15 pages he devoted to it but the campaign was not his focus, the town was and those 15 pages fit in well with the rest of the book.

This book ably fills the gap in our understanding of Knoxville in the war. It was a divided town in a divided area of the Confederacy. It leaned more to the Confederate side than the surrounding area but it was still divided. The division was pronounced enough that the town was essentially occupied by one side or the other for the entire war.

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