Sunday, March 20, 2011

Boman: "LINCOLN AND CITIZENS' RIGHTS IN CIVIL WAR MISSOURI: Balancing Freedom and Security"

[Lincoln and Citizens' Rights in Civil War Missouri: Balancing Freedom and Security by Dennis K. Boman (Louisiana State University Press, 2011). Cloth, notes, bibliography, index. Page main/total:280/356. ISBN:978-0-8071-3693-5 $45]

Missouri surely vexed President Lincoln more than any other Union aligned state, but the converse was also true, with the variety of abuses committed by Lincoln military appointees providing abundant cause for complaint by the conservative Unionists that dominated the state's body politic. While always sympathetic to the 16th president's difficulties (after all, Lincoln had a war on a continental scale to run and Missouri was just a part of it), Dennis Boman's Lincoln and Citizens' Rights in Civil War Missouri provides readers with a broad examination of the wartime curtailment of civil rights in the state from the perspectives of both radicals and conservatives.

With his detailed renderings of the implementation and consequences of the civil rights policies of the string of generals placed in departmental command in Missouri, one of Boman's most effective critiques is of Lincoln's repeated inability to see that placing radical generals (e.g. John C. Fremont, Samuel R. Curtis, Lewis Merrill among others) in department and district leadership roles would clash with the state's conservative political leadership, hinder cooperation, and, at its worst, exacerbate the guerrilla conflict. Nevertheless, while often tone deaf to the state's political culture, the president did strike some good notes appointing and sustaining such generals as John Schofield, those that would prove to be able to work effectively with Provisional Governor Hamilton R. Gamble. Well positioned to do so as a biographer of the governor*, Boman succeeds in constructing a defense of the conservative, pro-slavery Gamble from contemporary charges by Missouri radicals that he was disloyal.  To his credit, Lincoln, although personally more closely aligned with the views of the radicals than those of the governor, recognized the criticism as crass partisan political warfare.

Arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, banishment, property assessments, press and religious suppression, summary executions, voter intimidation, and involuntary emancipation are all examples of rights infringements described in the book that were allowed to prevail in Missouri in the name of military necessity. Lincoln himself most often displayed a hands off policy toward these matters, preferring to let the commander on the scene dictate policy. While Lincoln is often praised for allowing the presumably best informed person to craft policy, this management style is also a recipe for inconsistency (commanders were frequently replaced and not devoid of political motivations) and abuse.  While the president possessed a well documented merciful streak when it came to condemning individuals when guilt was in doubt or extenuating circumstances were involved, his interventions righting individual wrongs did not always impact long term policy nor ensure that similar abuses would not recur. Also, to have one's case reviewed, one often had to be fortunate enough to have an advocate with the ear of the president.

One of the more egregious violations of civil rights was the arrest of religious ministers deemed disloyal, even when no overt hostility to military authorities was displayed (the case of Samuel McPheeters being the book's most prominent example). In a creditable reaction, Lincoln strongly enjoined his department commanders to cease running church affairs. Unlike the above policy, there was little impetus until very late in the war to reform the corrupt provost marshal system in Missouri. This network of "little gods" was able to operate far too long without real oversight, exercising arbitrary powers of arrest, detention, and bond forfeiture. Another serious rights infringement was the intimidation of conservative Missouri voters and candidates by federal soldiers. Several examples of this pertaining to the 1864 elections are provided in the book, and one might wish the author to have suggested the need for further research rather than dismiss the notion that it could have been widespread.

In the end, Boman concludes that Lincoln performed admirably under the most difficult circumstances and was ultimately credited by the author for keeping Missouri within the Union and from descending into societal chaos. From the author's perspective, Missouri burnishes rather than detracts from Lincoln's reputation as one of the greatest American presidents. On the other hand, one could easily take the evidence and analysis presented so well in the book and arrive at a different conclusion. In regard to Missouri, readers frequently find a Lincoln that was reactive at best in dealing with critical issues and passive at worst, a situation that clashes with the popular image of an astute politician and proactive commander in chief.

More useful than his broad assessments are the author's excellent descriptions of the initiatives of the various military commanders responsible for maintaining order in Missouri, and the consequences of each.  The complex conservative vs. radical interplay between military, state, and federal executive authorities are also well developed in the book. Lincoln and Citizens' Rights in Civil War Missouri is an important study of how the president and the military handled dissent in a conservative Union state with a sizable pro-Confederate population. A similar look at the fellow troubled border state of Kentucky would be another welcome contribution.

* - Lincoln's Resolute Unionist: Hamilton Gamble, Dred Scott Dissenter And Missouri's Civil War Governor (LSU, 2006).


Other CWBA reviews of LSU Press titles:

* War No More: The Antiwar Impulse in American Literature, 1861-1914
* Isham G. Harris of Tennessee: Confederate Governor and United States Senator
* Executing Daniel Bright: Race, Loyalty, and Guerrilla Violence in a Coastal Carolina Community 1861-1865
* Mosquito Soldiers: Malaria, Yellow Fever, and the Course of the American Civil War
* Homegrown Yankees: Tennessee's Union Cavalry in the Civil War
* John Bankhead Magruder: A Military Reappraisal
* A Wisconsin Yankee in the Confederate Bayou Country: The Civil War Reminiscences of a Union General
* Bleeding Borders: Race, Gender, and Violence in Pre-Civil War Kansas
* Jefferson Davis and the Civil War Era
* Where Men Only Dare to Go Or the Story of a Boy Company, C.S.A.
* Encyclopedia of Civil War Shipwrecks
* Walker’s Texas Division, C.S.A.: Greyhounds of the Trans-Mississippi
* The Confederate Cherokees: John Drew's Regiment of Mounted Rifles
* A Crisis In Confederate Command: Edmund Kirby Smith, Richard Taylor, And The Army Of The Trans-Mississippi
* The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock

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