John H. Matsui argues that the Army of Virginia, led by John Pope, represented the first Republican-led army, heralding the turn toward emancipation and a harder war against enemy civilians. “Republican Army” means embracing the ideals of the Republican party—principally the Radicals—and not of the republicans who believed in representative government. Formed in 1862 before Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, the Army of Virginia punished secessionist civilians by confiscating their property and welcoming runaway slaves. The army favored a harder war against the enemy and “was demonstrably anti-slavery from top to bottom” (p. 4). These observations build on prior works that have noted the conservative bent of the leaders of the Army of the Potomac—the administration's main army in the eastern theater—versus the new way of conducting warfare signaled by Pope's rise to command. A common story is that the Army of the Potomac commander George B. McClellan believed in a limited war that respected civilian property, including slaves—a policy calculated to encourage Unionist sentiment and forge easier reunion. Pope, however, brought an attitude of warfare forged in the western theater (between the Appalachian Mountains and Mississippi River) that did not treat civilians with kid gloves. Matsui's biggest contribution lies in providing the most comprehensive contrast of the two Union armies in Virginia concerning the political beliefs within the high commands, while also trying to capture the attitudes of the common soldiers in Pope's army. The Army of Virginia drew from a wider regional pattern than did the Army of the Potomac, which consisted of men primarily from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. In Pope's army, westerners and German Americans were a much greater proportion; that unit probably was more representative of the Union at large. Matsui also does a good job of contrasting the political differences of the generals and showing how these political ideals could affect war-making policies on the ground. The study, however, succeeds more in dealing with the partisanship of the high command than common soldiers, which remains a challenging nut to crack. Methodologically, the author bases his study on the papers of 250 officers and soldiers. He does not, however, share an analysis of the sample, except to say that accessibility of the material guided selection rather than choosing soldiers by region, by political affiliation, of by some other analytical category. Because the nature of the sampling is not divulged, it is difficult to judge the background of soldiers who ascribed to a particular belief. This lack of clarity matters because if Republican- or Democrat-affiliated soldiers held the same beliefs about war making, then something other than partisanship may have been at work. To his credit, the author indicates that the majority of the people expressing compassion for slaves were officers, not enlisted men, and that antislavery sentiment did not always conquer antiblack feelings among his population. The questions the book raises are good ones, and the answers it provides are important for validating assumptions in the literature. Readers receive a good look at the Army of Virginia's behavior against its enemy and the sentiments of officers, but we await a more definitive approach for unearthing the political ideology of common soldiers in the military. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: email@example.com.
The Journal of American History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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