Civil War Talk Radio: September 1, 2006

by Brett Schulte on September 1, 2006 · 0 comments

Air Date: 090106
Subject: The Civil War in the Mountain South
Book:  A Separate Civil War: Communities in Conflict in the Mountain South
Guest: Dr. Jonathan Sarris

Summary: Dr. Jonathan Sarris discusses mountain communities in the South and their divided loyalties.

Brett’s Summary: A tropical storm was moving through North Carolina as the show was being recorded.

Gerry admitted to an interest in Appalachian mountain music to lead off the show.  Dr. Sarris said he grew interested in the topic because he was told to write about something which hadn’t been written about before.  His advisor pointed out some primary sources discussing the experiences of mountain people during the Civil War.  In his book, Dr. Sarris writes about Lumpkin and Fannin counties in northern Georgia.  He says his war was among the local population, an “inner Civil War”.  Gerry pointed out that the North did not have a monopoly on divided loyalties, and the author added that yes the mountains had more division than most places, but that there were other area as well with some dissenters.  These mountainous counties opposed secession prior to the war, but soon joined enthusiastically in the Confederate war effort.  Sarris said these areas shifted loyalties many times throughout the war, sometimes serving in the armies of both sides.

Sarris mentioned that the lack of literacy in some of these areas made his research harder in some ways but freeing in others.  He calls the sides “Confederates” and “anti-Confederates”.  Gerry asked about the relative lack of a visible “line” between the sides, and Sarris said he never came up with an easy answer to this question.  Class lines were definitely not the answer, for instance.  He says it was really a question of personal experiences and grievances.

The second portion of the episode started with a discussion of the negative stereotypes associated with Appalachia such as poverty, lack of education, and a tendency to violence as well as positive stereotypes such as the ability to survive in tough conditions, freedom from slavery, etc.  Sarris says he found some evidence of the stereotypes holding up while also finding some which do not hold up.

Interestingly, the people of Lumpkin County looked on those of Fannin County as the “mountaineers” while not considering themselves so.  Sarris believes this was a way for many mountain people to try to deflect negative stereotypes associated with that label.

In the winter of 1863, Col. George Lee, the provost marshal of Atlanta, moved into this area with about 100 men in order to restore order.  By this time, there were numerous threats to law and order in these counties.  Deserters, anti-Confederates, and others opposed to Confederate government just wanted to be left alone.  Gerry points out, and Sarris concurs, that these people weren’t necessarily pro-North or anti-slavery, but their opposition to the Confederate government had the same effect.  The irony of a Confederacy fighting for freedom from central government having to in effect oppress portions of its own territory is not lost on Prokopowicz and Sarris.

Talk next turned to the atrocities committed in the guerrilla warfare which was occurring there.  As law and order broke down, says Sarris, the opposing sides were more and more willing to commit horrible outrages on their enemies.  Sarris says this fighting is more similar to the current day fighting in Iraq than it is to “Ken Burns’ Civil War’.  Sarris agrees that the fighting grew more and more brutal as the war wore on.  John Gatewood was nominally aligned with the Confederate cause and rode through the area killing “tories” or Unionists along the way.

The third section of the program turned to both sides’ efforts at reconciliation after the war.  Gerry found this portion of the book shattered some of his preconceived notions about the area.  Gerry specifically mentioned the existence of the Freedmen’s Bureau in this area which had historically few slaves.  Sarris pointed out that this organization spent a good deal of time orchestrating reconciliation efforts between the Confederates and anti-Confederates.  He found the Freedmen’s Bureau’s efforts in dealing with Whites to be particularly fascinating.  They also provided food relief to both Blacks and Whites.

On both sides of the past conflict, people tried to turn to courts for justice for past grievances which had occurred during the war, especially the “tories” or anti-Confederates.  These people, more numerous in Fannin County, became post-war Republicans, while the more slaveholding people of Lumpkin County stayed Democratic.  The conflict thus moved into the political arena as well.  Gerry mentioned the “moonshine war” which was still being fought after the Civil War.  The Federal government tried to tax local distilleries and the mountain people resisted, leading to sometimes bloody conflict.  This situation was especially galling to those who had resisted the Confederate government during the Civil War.

Interestingly, some of the Lost Cause groups tried to cover up the level of dissent in these areas after the war.  Their version of events does not square with Dr. Sarris’ findings, and he says “former Union adherents had to fight the war all over again”.  One instance was the forming of a GAR Post named after William T. Sherman, possibly the most hated man in the entire state!  One former Confederate deserter often frequented reunions and challenged the view of a fully united Confederacy.

Civil War Talk Radio airs most Fridays at 12 PM Pacific on World Talk Radio Studio A. Host Gerry Prokopowicz, the History Chair at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, interviews a guest each week and discusses their interest in the Civil War. Most interviews center around a book or books if the guest is an author. Other guests over the years have included public historians such as park rangers and museum curators, wargamers, bloggers, and even a member of an American Civil War Round Table located in London, England.

In this series of blog entries, I will be posting air dates, subjects, and guests, and if I have time, I’ll provide a brief summary of the program. You can find all of the past episodes I’ve entered into the blog by clicking on the Civil War Talk Radio category. Each program should appear either on or near the date it was first broadcast.

Check out more summaries of Civil War Talk Radio at TOCWOC.

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