Online Work

Online Etymology Dictionary
The Sciolist
Slavery in the North
Civil War Writing

Civil War Causes

It's often said that the American Civil War was entirely and only about slavery. Is there another view?

Yankee Canards
Was the ante-bellum South a primitive, backwards, illiterate, violent culture?

Numbers and significance of the Southern mulatto population

Northern Racism
De Tocqueville observed that "race prejudice seems stronger in those states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists, and nowhere is it more intolerant than in those states where slavery was never known"

Slavery as History
How can you make an honest inquiry into American slavery without understanding the mindset of slave-owners? How can you do that without being yourself a racist?

Rebel View
Early 19th century American politics and political culture as it was seen by many Southerners

Abraham Lincoln was perhaps the greatest writer in American political history. Writers are great, in part, because of their ability to disguise what they really intend.

Lincoln and Race
"You and we are different races. We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races."

Thaddeus Stevens
The life and times of Pennsylvania's fiery anti-Southern Congressman

Sidelights on Christiana
The Christiana Riot of 1851 is sometimes described at the first skirmish of the Civil War

1860 Election
Even if all the Democrats had united behind one candidate, the Northern regional ticket would have won

The wire-pulling over the Morrill tariff bill in 1860 showed the party of the abolitionists cynically using a legitimate government mechanism to gain power in a presidential election.

Legal Issues
Secession was legal under the Constitution, based on its ratification by the states in 1787 and 1788

Cornerstone Speech
Alexander Stephens "Cornerstone Speech" in context.

Upper South
"States rights" is dismissed as a red herring argument, yet the Upper South states seem to have left the Union for this reason.

What Cost Union?
Lincoln saved the union, but at a terrible cost to America's democracy and culture of freedom.


Up from History
The evolving historical view of the American Civil War.

Soldiers and War
Responding to the slander against Southern military effort.

Why the South Lost
Was Northern victory inevitable?

War Effort
The South put forth a tremendous effort for independence.

The Southern Press
Journalism and Southern civil liberties.

An examination of the myth of massive Southern desertion.

A Closer Look
Desertion by the numbers; case studies North and South.

Ella Lonn
The original study of desertion in the Civil War.

Southern conscription was the first attempt to create a modern military system.

Draft of 1862
An overlooked draft in the North that was underway almost simultaneously with the first rebel conscription.

Albert B. Moore
An important source for the "South against the South" thesis.

The Lincoln Administration's crackdown on Maryland.

Occupied Maryland
A sampling of federal documents dealing with martial law in Maryland.

Maryland Peace Party
A pamphlet from the anti-government forces in Maryland.

Habeas Corpus
The suspension of Habeas Corpus in the North by the Lincoln administration during the war.

A Northern newspaper editor fights the administration after it closes down his press in response to anti-government articles.

"Keystone Confederates"
Some Pennsylvanians fought for the South during the Civil War.


Southern Populists
"You are deceived and blinded that you may not see how this race antagonism perpetuates a monetary system which beggars you both."

Coatesville Lynching
Zach Walker was burned alive by a white mob in Coatesville, Pennsylvania.

York Riots
A little-known but violent 1960s race riot in York, Pennsylvania.

New South
Slavery, racism, and segregation were national experiences.

New Lost Cause
A native-born Southern white woman worked with native-born Southerners, black and white, with a shared sense of decency, to accomplishing the work of desegregation in Mississippi.

Flag dispute
From 1879 to 1956, the Georgia state flag was essentially the "Stars and Bars." If you were going to link any state flag with slavery, that would be the one.

Jonathan Kozol
"So two-tenths of 1 percent marks the difference between legally enforced apartheid in the South 50 years ago, and socially and economically enforced apartheid in New York today"


sources consulted


"Desertion During the Civil War" is a short book -- a monograph, almost. Lonn's analysis of the "disease" takes into account both North and South, with side glances at the Napoleonic armies, Wellington's experience in Spain, the U.S. military before 1861, and the Franco-Prussian War.

She takes pains to present the desertion problem as a practical one that plagued both sides in the war. Part of her thesis, now much-shaken by newer information, was that the South had a serious desertion problem for much of the war, and that it spiraled out of control in the last months. She wrote that the North seemed to get its own desertion problem under relative control about the same time -- largely by draconian measures.

In her introduction, Lonn points out something that was clear to her:

"The reader will perforce be impressed with the parallelism which runs through the account of defection from the armies of the antagonists. But as the Confederacy was unable to frame a constitution which was other than a slight adaption of the old framework, so these two nations of one race and one heritage, developed the same problems during the war and evolved similar solutions."

Among the issues she delves into are men who deserted and then returned to duty, either because they were forced back or because whatever business they had had to attend to at home had been taken care of. Her tables in the appendix list 12,071 men as deserters from Virginia's Confederate forces, and list 8,596 from the state as "returned to the armies." William Blair's "Virginia's Private War" [N.Y., Oxford University Press, 1998] concluded that soldiers left the army for all sorts of reasons, particularly during times of idleness, and many of them came back in time for campaigning.

Just as every man who took a draft exemption wasn't voting against the Confederacy, every man marked as a deserter wasn't making a valid political decision about the Confederate cause. Among the Southern deserters, Lonn finds the usual classes who would have deserted from the North, too, had fate cast them on that side, to be dredged up by the nets of conscription or lured in by bounties. There were cowards, scoundrels, and ruffians who had enlisted only to escape some scrape at home. She also mentions foreigners "who knew little and cared less for the burning American question of State rights." Just as in the North, Meade would allude to the "worthless foreigners, who are daily deserting to the enemy."

In Texas, the South tried to enlist Mexican immigrants, without much success. "Starting with no particular affection for American institutions, Northern or Southern, they early passed back over the Rio Grande to take part in the difficulties which soon beset their own land." They, too, turn up among the nameless thousands listed as CSA deserters. The United States had the same problem with its recruits in New Mexico.

Lonn also identifies Northern-born men, who "were in most cases holders of considerable property or large traders for their communities. ... Many had gone into the far South recently, after 1850, so their ties were still mainly with the North and their traditions antislavery." They deserted as well.

Hired "substitutes" for drafted men, as in the North, proved especially liable to desert. "One officer reports that four-fifths of his deserters were substitutes, who deserted within twenty-four hours of being received at his headquarters," Lonn writes. Many a Northern officer would have sympathized.

Her conclusion is [p. 226] that one out of every seven men deserted from the Union Army, and one out of every nine men deserted from the Confederate army. But that, though the Union lost proportionately more to desertion, the South suffered more because of the initial difference in manpower. She feels the Union desertions helped prolong a war that the South was losing, because the news of them gave the South hope and allowed it to cling to a dream of eventual victory long after that was practically out of reach.

In her conclusion, Lonn writes, "Both sides have just cause to be proud of the vast majority of the men engaged in the war between the States. Testimonies of their remarkable daring and coolness under fire, the dependence which could be placed upon them in emergencies, their obedience to orders in an engagement, the stoicism with which they endured the hardships incident to a difficult terrain and climate without murmur are legion and are taken for granted by the writer. Likewise the sustained enthusiasm and dogged determination of the majority of the civilian population to support the war, whether to win independence from an oppressive, centralized government or to sustain the integrity of the Union, need no comment or eulogy."

Throughout Lonn's work, she compares and contrasts the Northern and Southern situations and solutions and finds many similarities and identities. Though she credits desertion as contributing to the South's failure to achieve independence, I see nothing in her work that would warrant a belief that the South's desertion problem was somehow a morally damning thing; that it was somehow of a different nature entirely from the North's (or from Napoleon's, or from that of any other army losing a war, which is a hard thing to do).

Far more than execrating or justifying the Confederate cause, Lonn seems to be writing with an eye on her own time, in the wake of World War I, which brought up a great many of the ugly things in American democracy that we think only emerged during the Cold War. She alludes to it often, and seems intent on pointing out that the horrors of war -- any war -- are more worthy of note than the characters of men who desert from armies.

The key paragraph of her introduction is this one:

"The writer ventures the hope that by turning a search-light on a question which could scarcely have found a tolerant reading a few decades ago, a few persons will, perchance, be led to a more tolerant view in discussing and pondering the problems of our recent World War on which passions are still inflamed. The truth is here, it is hoped, impartially presented. The writer, though by accident born in the North, has not felt the slightest impulse to minimize the desertion in the Union armies nor to exaggerate that in the Confederate forces. Her audience would be the first to condemn a partisan bias. The lovers of history should be the first to apply that tolerance to contemporary history."


2002Douglas Harper "When misunderstanding serves others as an advantage, one is helpless to make oneself understood." -Lionel Trilling