In the United States, Southern Unionists were white Southerners living in the Confederate States of America opposed to secession. Many fought for the Union during the Civil War. These people are also referred to as Southern Loyalists, Union Loyalists, or Lincoln's Loyalists. Pro-Confederates in the South derided them as "Tories" (in reference to the pro-Crown Loyalists of the American Revolution). During Reconstruction, these terms were replaced by “scalawag” (or “scallywag”), which covered all Southern whites who supported the Republican Party.
Tennessee (especially East Tennessee), North Carolina, and Virginia (which included West Virginia at that time) were home to the largest populations of unionists. Other (primarily Appalachian) areas with significant Unionist influence included North Alabama, North Georgia, Western North Carolina, the Texas Hill Country, northern Loudoun County in Virginia, the State of Scott in Tennessee, the Free State of Jones in Mississippi, North Mississippi, North Texas, the Arkansas Ozarks, and the Boston Mountains in Arkansas. These areas provided thousands of volunteers for Union military service. Western North Carolinians, for example, formed their own loyalist infantry, cavalry and artillery regiments, while West Virginians formed a new Union state admitted in 1863.
The term Southern Unionist, and its variations, incorporate a spectrum of beliefs and actions. Some, such as Texas governor Sam Houston, were vocal in their support of Southern interests, but believed that those interests could best be maintained by remaining in the Union as it existed. Some Unionists initially opposed secession (especially in the states of Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia), but afterward either actively served and fought with the Confederate armies, or supported the Confederacy in other ways. Others refused to fight, went North or stayed North to enlist in the Union Army, or fought informally as partisans in the South. Some remained in the South and tried to stay neutral. The term could also be used for any Southerner who worked with the Republican Party or Union government in any capacity after the war ended in 1865.
A study of Southern Unionists in Alabama who continued to support the Union during the war found that they were typically “old fashioned” or “Jackson” conservative Democrats, or former Whigs, who viewed the federal government as worthy of defending because it had provided economic and political security. They saw secession as dangerous, illegitimate, and contrary to the intentions of the Founding Fathers, and believed that the Confederacy could not improve on the United States government. The desire for security was a motivation for Unionist slaveholders, who feared that secession would cause a conflict that would result in the loss of their slaves; however, some stated that they would rather give up slavery than dissolve the Union. The Southern ideals of honor, family, and duty were as important to Unionists as to their pro-secession neighbors. They believed, however, that rebelling against the United States, which many of their ancestors had fought for in 1776 and 1812, was the unmanly and dishonorable act.
In 2003, historian James Alex Baggett profiled more than 1,400 Southern political activists (742 Southern Unionists, and 666 Redeemers who eventually replaced them) in three regions (the Upper South, the Southeast, and the Southwest). He coded them as follows:
|1||Breckinridge supporter in 1860 election|
|2||Bell or Douglas supporter in 1860 election|
|3||1860–61 opponent of secession|
|4||Passive wartime unionist|
|5||Peace party advocate|
|6||Active wartime unionist|
|7||Postwar Union party supporter|
Baggett claimed that each activist's score was roughly proportional to the probability that the activist was a Southern Unionist. Baggett further investigated the lives of those Southern Unionists before, during, and after the war, with respect to birthplace, occupation, value of estate, slave ownership, education, party activity, stand on secession, war politics, and postwar politics.
Before the war there was widespread belief in the North that the states that had not yet seceded might be persuaded to stay within the Union. This idea was predicated on the fact that many believed that the newly elected President Lincoln would declare a relaxed policy toward the South that would ease tensions. Given the fact that there were a good number of Southern Unionists known to be found in the South it was hoped that this deliberate policy of non-provocation would subvert extremists from irreversible action. Admirable though their sentiments might have been, the claims of these Northerners were greatly embellished. In fact there were fewer Unionists in the South than many Northerners believed, and they tended to be concentrated in areas such as northwest Virginia, Eastern Tennessee, and parts of North Carolina where slave owners and slaves themselves were few. Furthermore, in the states that had already seceded, irreversible action had already taken place; federal buildings, mints, and courthouses had been seized.
Many southern soldiers remained loyal when their states seceded; 40 percent of Virginian officers in the United States military, for example, stayed with the Union. During the war, many Southern Unionists went North and joined the Union armies. Others joined when Union armies entered their hometowns in Tennessee, Virginia, Arkansas, Louisiana and elsewhere. Around 100,000 Southern Unionists served in the Union Army during the Civil War, and every Southern state except South Carolina raised organizations of white troops.
|State||White soldiers serving |
in the Union Army
(other branches unlisted)
The Southern Unionists were referred to in Henry Clay Work’s song Marching Through Georgia:
Southern Unionists were extensively used as anti-guerrilla forces and as occupation troops in areas of the Confederacy occupied by the Union. Ulysses S. Grant noted:
"We had many regiments of brave and loyal men who volunteered under great difficulty from the twelve million belonging to the South."
except South Carolina.