Interview: Victoria E. Bynum

Each month on the UNC Press homepage, we feature a handful of interviews with authors. I’d like to bring them over and share them with you blog readers because they’re so often just fun and interesting.

I want to start by introducing Victoria E. Bynum, author of three books with us, including, most recently, The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Discontents. Focusing on regions in three Southern states — North Carolina, Mississippi, and Texas – The Long Shadow of the Civil War introduces Unionist supporters, guerrilla soldiers, defiant women, socialists, populists, free blacks, and large interracial kin groups that belie stereotypes of the South and of Southerners as uniformly supportive of the Confederate cause. [Author photo by Chandler Prude.]

Some excerpts from our interview with Bynum:

Q: What led you to combine three Civil War home fronts, all noted as areas of violent disorder, in one study? Why these three?

A: Most basically, I combined them in order to provide in-depth comparisons of the communities within the same volume. But there’s more to it than that; the communities have important links to one another. The North Carolina Piedmont was the ancestral seedbed of migration into what became Jones County, Mississippi. Later, East Texas attracted many non-slaveholding Mississippi families seeking a less-developed piney woods region.

All three regions exhibited fierce Unionist activity during the Civil War, with brothers fighting in separate deserter bands across state lines in two of the communities. So, combining them in one study provided a wonderful opportunity to identify common characteristics of Southern Unionism, while also showing how different geographic settings influenced the nature of the inner civil wars.

. . .

Q: For thirty years, Newt Knight petitioned the federal government to compensate his ad hoc military band, the Knight Company, for its support of the Union during the Civil War. What do those petitions reveal about the claims process itself, as well as the Knight Band?

A: The transcripts from Newt Knight’s extensive claims files suggest the federal government’s hostility toward claims of Southern Unionism, especially after 1887, as the nation sank into a deep economic depression. That year, Newt renewed efforts begun in 1870 to win compensation.

Several depositions of Jones County men made a strong case for Unionism among the Knight Company. The passage of time, however, doomed Newt’s claim to failure. His Washington, DC, lawyers were unfamiliar with the Jones County uprising, while witnesses’ memories of the war faded over time. Most damaging, crucial evidence presented in Knight’s 1870 petition was misplaced by the government and never presented after 1887. At the same time, an expanding literature that portrayed the white South as having been unified around secession made Northerners all the more suspicious of Southern claims of Unionism.

You can read the full interview here.

Bynum is also a blogger herself over at Renegade South, where she explores “histories of unconventional southerners.” In recent posts, she offers a Memorial Day remembrance for southern veterans who fought for the Union and discusses how race and class have historically shaped mixed-race communities.

Check out her blog, and check back with this one to meet more authors in the future.

cheers,
ellen

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