But I've always had trouble accepting the common explanation as to why some of the best military men of the Civil War cast their lot with the Confederacy. Seeking to understand just why it was that officers such as Robert E. Lee and Tom Jackson resigned from the US Army and why they led armies in an attempt to destroy the Union, we are told that these men always had a higher sense of loyalty and devotion to their state (read Virginia) than to the nation. Perhaps I just don't understand, but it seems to me to be a weak argument.
If, as the explanation goes, we are to believe that this was a commonly-shared sentiment of 19th century Americans, then why is it most frequently, maybe exclusively, used to explain the decision of Virginians to take up their swords against the United States? Seldom have I ever heard that say, oh, James Longstreet wrestled over his decision to resign but ultimately decided to do so because he was a South Carolinian (or Georgian) first, and an American second. The same can be said about other non-Virginia Confederate officers. . .Lafayette McLaws, for example. Did he feel a higher duty to Georgia? Or Braxton Bragg. . .did his loyalty lie with North Carolina? I just never really bought this explanation.
Of course, if, and I stress IF, state loyalty superceded national loyalty, then how do we explain the recruitment of 37 units of (west) Virginia soldiers that fought for the Union? Or the 56, yes, I said Fifty-Six, infantry, cavalry, and artillery units that were mustered into Federal service from Tennessee?
And how about those officers that in some quarters are viewed as "traitors;" Southern-born or Southern-raised army officers that remained in the US Army following secession. Of course, the most famous was George H. Thomas, but there was also Jesse Reno, Winfield Scott, John Newton, and Benjamin Prentiss. All of these men were native Virginians. Were they not properly infused with the Virginia-first, US-second mentality?
And let's not forget about David Farragut from Tennessee, the Birney brothers, David & William, from Alabama, John Fremont and Montgomery Meigs, both born in Georgia, Stephen Hurlbut, of South Carolina, and also John Gibbon. Though born near Philadelphia, Gibbon spent most of his childhood in North Carolina. Four of his brothers fought for the Confederacy, but Gibbon remained loyal to the US.
Now, I'm trying to think of Northern-born Confederate officers, but, off the top of my head, can only come up with Roswell Ripley, born in Ohio.
It is for these reasons, and others as well, that I have never bought into the concept of a higher sense of devotion to one's native state as the sole explanation as to why some fought for the CSA and not the USA. But, of course, I could be wrong. Perhaps Lee and Jackson did feel this way. But I do not believe that such sentiment was widespread, and certainly not universal in the South. And, just one more thought, was Robert E. Lee fighting just for his native state? If the CSA had proved triumphant, wouldn't Virginia then become just another state in another nation?