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A Disunited South: Augusta and its Pro-Unionists

Alexander Stuart, an attorney living in Augusta, Virginia who turned to politics in the mid 1850s, became shocked at the prospects of war to defend slavery. Like many Union advocates in his county, Stuart viewed secession with abhorrence.
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"The only way to preserve peace is to present a united front."
                              - A.H.H. Stuart
Although they did not directly advocate abolition of slavery, these pro-Union southerners did not want to engage in a war. Too much of their personal wealth could be jeopardized by a war. In fact, the prospects of the disastrous economic effects of a civil war encouraged many northern, affluent Augustans who did not own slaves to oppose secession. That so many Southerners opposed both secession and the war posed an internal threat to the Confederate cause. The very rich and accessible archives of Augusta allow us to understand southern unionists with unusual clarity.

The first evidence of pro-Unionist sentiment in Augusta appears in The Staunton Spectator, a newspaper that turned pro-northern and wrote for a "patriotic cause" [image] in 1860. Soon thereafter, The Staunton Spectator saw a
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dramatic increase in their circulation
[image].'Our Subscription List', The Staunton Spectator, 5 February 1861, p. 2, c. 2, and 'Still They Come', The Staunton Spectator, 26 February 1861 This newspaper article, coupled with the fact that the readers and writers of The Staunton Spectator were economically affluent and lived the Northern as non-slave owners portrays an interesting picture: affluent people in the northern section of Augusta advocated the preservation of the Union.An analysis of the names of ten readers (actually, ten readers who wrote letters to the editor that were published) and seven writers of the newspaper, randomly taken from 1861 to 1864 shows that 93 percent (16 people) owned $6,784 (median wealth in Augusta at the time) or over in real estate value, 60 percent (10) lived in the Northern section of Augusta county, and 90 percent (15) did not own slaves. In contrast, a sample of ten readers of The Republican Vindicator, a secessionist newspaper (which cost the same as the Spectator), suggests that most subscribers were either rich slave owners or poor laborers.Ten readers and writers of the Republican Vindicator shows that: 30 percent (3 people) owned slaves, 40 (4 people) percent owned real estate greater than $6,784 (75 percent (3) of these people were slave owners), 60 percent owned few than $6,784 in real estate, 70 percent (14) lived in the 1st District or Staunton District. Evidence, therefore, suggests that since people in Augusta read newspapers with the same political ideology as themselves, wealthier Augustans living in the northern section of the county who did
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"The prospects of the disastrous economic effects of a civil war encouraged many northern, affluent Augustans who did not own slaves to oppose secession."
not own slaves agreed more with the Republican, pro-Union views of The Staunton Spectator.

Probably because the editors of the Spectator saw the increase in popularity among the affluent northern Augustans, the paper began to publish more articles and features that grew increasingly bold in its promotion of the preservation of the United States. On January 22, 1861, for example, the Spectator published a petition with about 150 names of people who supported three candidates - A. H. H. Stuart, J.B. Baldwin, H. W. Sheffey - to run on a conservative pro-Union ticket for the State Convention on the issue of slavery.'Petition/Letters', The Staunton Specator, 22 January 1861 Analysis of all of the people on the petition reveals forty-three people (sixty-three percent) to be worth more than $6,784 (the median of everyone in Augusta) in real estate value, and twenty-five people worth less than this value.There is a discrepancy between the total number on the list and percent of people because some people did not have data on that particular information. For example, forty-eight people lived nowhere (did not have any division associated with them in the database). It seems clear, then, that support for the Union came from the wealthy of Augusta. But which wealthy? The petition also reveals that nearly all the signers lived in the Northern section of Augusta County - on an eighty-eight to twelve ratio.Exact numbers are: Seventy-two people in the Northern section, four in Staunton district, six in 1st district. A search of the number of slave owners in the Northern section in the slave-owner database shows only about twenty percent of all the slave owners in Augusta County owning slaves lived in the Northern section. This data of the number of slave owners in Northern section is strengthened by analysis of each person on the petition - only five owned slaves and only two slave owners lived in the Northern section. Further, the majority of occupations ranged from physicians, doctors, lawyers, and gentlemen.Farmers were in the minority. Twelve lawyers, six gentlemen, eight doctors, ten laborers and nine farmers. A similar statistical sample can be found in another petition of about two hundred Augustans, published on January 29, 1861 [image] in The Spectator, favoring Stuart, Baldwin, and Baylor (all Unionists) to run for office.The data shows: out of 200 people, seventy-three percent to have jobs other than farming; seventy-six percent to have more than $6,784 in real estate value; eighty-seven percent to live in the Northern section; and only six people to be slave owners. In short, people of higher economic class, people who did not own slaves, people who lived in the northern part of Augusta and people characterized with a combination of the above wanted pro-Unionists to represent them in conventions and politics.

One may argue, with the data above, that perhaps poorer people, slave owners, and Augustans who lived in the 1st or Staunton district tend not to sign petitions. The evidence suggests otherwise, however, as poor laborers did sign petitions. A petition [image] published on May 17, 1861 in The Republican Vindicator, signed by about thirty people, asked Stuart to reply to their Ordinance of Secession.'Hon. A.H.H. Stuart's Position.', The Republican Vindicator, 17 May 1861, p.2, c.2
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An analysis of the names of the people on the petition, all secessionists, reveals most signers to be either poor laborers or rich slave owners living in the 1st and Staunton district.Out of the thirty people, fifteen lived in 1st or Staunton district, compared to three in Northern section. There were about eleven slave owners, ten laborers and almost the rest were low-paying jobs such as blacksmith, etc. These poorer laborers, rich slave owners and persons living in the 1st and Staunton district did participate in petitions, and did so espousing politics opposing the interests of pro-Union northern, affluent Augustans.

In addition to petitions portraying a tendency of affluent, northern Augustans who did not own slaves to be Unionists, elections changed during the beginning months of the Civil War. Take the election of 1861 in which Thos. J. Michie ran for governor - and lost. An article in The Staunton Spectator blames his defeat [image] on the one drastic change in his political ideology, his recent approval of the Ordinance of Secession.'Thos. J. Michie, Esq. of '33 vs. Thos. J. Michie, Esq. of '61', The Staunton Spectator, 5 February 1861, p.2, c.3 When he ran for office in 1833, the article proclaims, Thomas J. Michie won because he "equated secession with treason." However, in 1861, he lost because he "argued that secession was legal under the Constitution." This election portrays how pro-Union sentiments had lost the election for a secessionist.

These Augustans expressed their pro-Union sentiments not only in elections but also in their personal documents. Alexander Stuart, the pro-Union politician and attorney at law, owning more than $70,000 in real estate, wrote over twenty letters on his firm stance on the preservation of the Union. He penned such comments as: "My view of the true policy of Virginia is, that she should remain in the Union until all Constitutional means of obtaining redress for the past and security for the future, shall have proved fruitless. I do not think the time has come for an appeal to the arbitrament of arms." [image] In the letters of Frederick Wicks, a physician writing mostly of injury treatments of war, he steadfastly argued of the rash mistake South Carolina and Virginia made when breaking away from the United States. While not a comprehensive analysis in itself, when coupled with the newspaper petitions and election data, the letters by these affluent Augustan affirm the thesis that rich, northern people in Augusta County opposed secession from the Union.

Why did these wealthy men living in the Northern section of Augusta without slaves favor the preservation of the Union? Stuart suggests the reasons for unionist sentiment in an article in The Staunton Spectator that if a civil war should ensue, he deems it impossible to estimate "the amount of additional taxes that would be required."'To the People of Augusta County', The Staunton Spectator, 22 January 1861, p.2, c.3 A poem entitled God Save Our Noble Union [image] expresses the author's fear the southern land becoming a "waste of nature."'God Save our Noble Union', The Stuanton Spectator, 22 January 1861, p.1, c.3
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In a letter from John M. Botts, to The Staunton Spectator, he expresses his disapproval of the Civil War because "the non-slaveholding populace [would] do a disproportionate amount of fighting." Moreover, he states, "I am willing to fight the battles of Virginia in a just cause, but I am not willing to fight the battles of South Carolina in a bad cause." [image]'Letter from Hon. John M. Botts', Alexandria Gazette, as transcribed in The Staunton Spectator, 22 January 22 1861, p.1 c.3 In yet another article in The Staunton Spectator, an anonymous author writes of the treason of secession [image] by citing George Washington's farewell address (which also asked the United States to work as a whole and see the 'bigger' economic picture).'Letter from George Washington', The Staunton Spectator, 26 February 1861, p.1 c.7
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From these articles and letters, we can see clearly that the wealthy northern Augustans without slaves had the most to lose, economically, from war. Taxes would no doubt, double or triple from war costs. This extra economic burden troubled the minds of the wealthy as they paid the most in taxes. Further, as Stuart points out that the South is economically tied to the North. These affluent northern Augustans who did not own slave did not have much anything the gain from war. With war, their vast economic potential with customers of the north would effectively be severed. Also, why should they, as Botts asks, fight for slavery if they do not own slaves?

Wealthy, northern Augustans without slaves continued to voice firmly their hatred of the war. As war ensued and people became "tired of the war," [image] more citizens joined the coalition. This opposition to war soon led to dire consequences which, at least in part, contributed to the defeat of the South in the war. As the war escalated, people started dodging the draft. The Republican Vindicator announced that after the conscription riot in New York, Virginia saw a dramatic decrease in volunteers [image] and the "disappearance" of many draftees.'Tired of War', The Republican Vindicator, 24 July 1863, p.2, c.2 Secessionists among the southerners led to a decrease in soldiers which, in turn helped lead to their defeat.

Alexander Stuart might have shaken his head as he read the newspaper headline: "Ordinance of Secession Not Passed." Like many pro-Union Augustans,
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"The South could only wonder what would have happened if they had only listened to the outcries of these 'radical' pro-Unionists."
however, Stuart did not become dismayed by this partial defeat. Rather, as time passed, the Unionists in Augusta voiced their opinions louder and with greater force. As war came to a close, all the pro-Union predictions had come true: the south was in ruins; northern economic ties had been severed; and the south had lost the institution of slavery. The South could only wonder what would have happened if they had only listened to the outcries of these "radical" pro-Unionists.


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