Loyalties and Justifications

24 07 2008


The report of Major Innis Palmer mentions the capture of Confederate General George “Maryland” Steuart.  Recently, I asked a question in a chat room, and not having received much of a response there, I thought I’d ask you folks what you think.

Let’s for a minute accept that many Confederate soldiers felt justified in taking up arms against their former country because of the primacy of their loyalty to their states.  I’m not saying I necessarily accept that as justification, but for the sake of this argument, let’s say it’s a true assumption.

What then do we make of the likes of Steuart (of Maryland, above left) and Simon Buckner or John Breckenridge (of Kentucky, above center and right)?  Were these men traitors to both their country and their states?  They were born, raised and resided in states that did not secede, and chose simply between a purely foreign country and the one of their birth or residence (as opposed to folks like John Gibbon and Winfield Scott).  Are they to be viewed any differently than, say, John C. Pemberton (who was at least married to a Virginian so may have had a significant nag factor to contend with, not to mention some wealth in a seceded state)?  What do you say?

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10 responses

24 07 2008
James F. Epperson

Harry, I think you are missing an obvious point. Just because my state didn’t secede, I am not prevented from thinking it *should* have seceded, and if the “evil Lincoln Administration” had left them alone that they *would* have seceded. Or, alternately, that attempting to coerce a state is such a political sin as to absolve me of any obligation of loyalty, therefore I will fight for the “other side” regardless of what my state does.


24 07 2008
Harry Smeltzer

Thanks for commenting, Jim. I’ve nibbled around the hook, checked my six for sharks, and am bravely swimming away.

24 07 2008
Robert Moore

Wow, this is deep. However, I’m not sure we can discuss this, as 21st century folk, in terms of nineteenth century thought. It’s just so tough to wrap a mind around this. But for what its worth, I’ll make my huble shot at this. On Steuart – I don’t think he would be considered a traitor to his state considering the interesting circumstances around Maryland’s retention in the Union. As for the Kentuckians, that’s a toss-up. I do think there was more of a thought of dedication to the home state than we can fathom today, but ultimately, the question of traitor or not a traitor was resolved in the result of the war itself. Since Union was a part of the question at hand, I would think that this would thereby trump any ideas of treachery to a particular state.

25 07 2008
Odds & Ends: July 25, 2008

[…] Smeltzer asks some interesting questions at Bull Runnings: What then do we make of the likes of Steuart (of Maryland, above left) and Simon Buckner or John […]

27 07 2008
Harry Smeltzer

OK, I’ve hemmed and hawed enough. I’d really like to hear what anyone still reading this has to say. So…

Given that the three individuals named were born, raised, and resided in states which did not secede from the Union yet chose to fight against their country and their state, their examples seem to fly in the face of idea that these decisions were predicated on the generally accepted notion that in those days one’s state was considered one’s country. It would seem these men were motivated by something other than their ideas of nation and nationalism, their loyalty to any government whatsoever. Did they act on purely personal motives, on a sense of being wronged, perhaps, or on an issue of personal wealth? Not unlike a certain gimpy general from 4 score years earlier? But even in Arnold’s case, he was at least born a subject of the Crown.

Perhaps a closer corollary would be the San Patricios in the War with Mexico.

Which begs the question, were Confederate soldiers from states that DID secede doing so out of loyalty to their states, or because of some other issue? Was the “following the crowd” excuse merely that, an excuse?

24 05 2010
Douglas Grace

If the war was fought over the state’s rights to rule themselves without federal interference dictating the structure of their society and economy these men were not traitor’s to states that stood on the opposite side of that issue even though they might have been born there. Though I would have been against slavery even then I can fully understand the Confederate fear that the election of Lincoln and the political situation threatened life as the southern people knew it. That fear proved prophetic considering the drastic change to southern society after the war. True to their principals these men were no more traitors to their home states than the southern abolitionists were who fought for the union, or the Tories who fought for England, or the French who fought for the Vichy government, the Cambodians who fought the Khmer Rouge. Defeat labeled them traitors. Victory for their causes would have made them heroes.

29 12 2010
Review: American Experience – Robert E. Lee « Bull Runnings

[…] based more on philosophy or, more likely, finances than on loyalty?  I tried to discuss this here a while back, with disappointing […]

24 09 2012
Luke Davis

My favorite Confederate General, Ortho Strahl, born and raised in Morgan County of my native Ohio. Graduate of Ohio Weslyn University. Although practicing law in Tennessee at the wars outbreak, is thought to have been influenced to the states rights side by both of his Grandmothers who were raised in the south. You gotta listen to your Grandmas right? The influence of women cannot be overlooked in this question! Then as now…
New to twitter but liking it, as always the website is excellent. Thanks for all your hard work Harry. I seem to recall that you are speaking somewhere in Ohio soon, would love to catch that.

24 09 2012
Harry Smeltzer

Yes and no – speaking in Columbus, Ohio to theCentral Ohio CWRT. But not until 2014! It seems Bull Run is not exactly a hot topic on the RT circuit these days. People would I think much rather hear about that traitorous coward, McClellan. And next year of course folks will want to learn about that obscure gent from Maine, Joshua Lawrence Somebody. Which is great because he just doesn’t get enough attention.

24 09 2012
Luke Davis

That’s true! Even though it’s not for awhile I will put it on my schedule.
Despite what Ohioans Ben Wade and Edwin Stanton might have thought, (no doubt, spinning in their graves,) Here is a link to the Ohio Historical Society marker at the Ortho French Strahl birthplace in Malta Ohio. Placed there no doubt long after those two gentlemen were deceased!


Once a buckeye….

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