By Vikki Bynum
I first learned about the Red Strings—known formally as “The Heroes of America“—in 1983 while researching Civil War dissenters, deserters, and guerrilla bands in the North Carolina State Archives. The late historian William T. “Bill” Auman, who counted a few of his own kinfolk among this secret pro-Union organization, was at that time writing Civil War in the North Carolina Quaker Belt, and had already co-written a superb article with David D. Scarboro on the Red Strings. Between Bill’s work and the collections that I daily poured over at the Archives, a fascinating world of rebels and co-conspirators against the Confederacy unfolded before me, one that included ordinary white men and women, slaves, and free people of color. My first book, Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control, was the result. Although only two of Unruly Women’s chapters centered on the Civil War, my career as a scholar of Southern dissent had begun.
From the North Carolina Piedmont I moved my research into the Mississippi Piney Woods, where the old legend of The Free State of Jones begged for a modern treatment. Then it was on to Texas, where I found echoes of Jones County’s Free State among a band of “Jayhawkers” in the Big Thicket of East Texas.
Hoping to facilitate a public conversation about the role of dissent in the nineteenth century South, in 2008 I created this blog, Renegade South. Then came The Movie. In June 2016, STX Entertainment released the Hollywood version of The Free State of Jones, with none other than Matthew McConaughey playing guerrilla leader Newt Knight.
More recently, public debates over the continued presence of pro-Confederate monuments throughout the South and beyond have stimulated interest in the origins of the “Lost Cause” version of Civil War history. “Lost Cause” history is shorthand for the popular belief that slavery did not cause the Civil War and that all Southerners—even so-called “good” slaves—were solidly united around protecting “states rights” and Southern honor through secession from the United States. That secession, of course, precipitated the Civil War.
Almost one hundred years ago, historians began demolishing the Lost Cause version of history by providing ample documentation that slavery did indeed cause the Civil War. And more recently historians have cast light on a far-from-“solid” South by exploring various insurrections and inner civil wars that raged against the Confederacy during the Civil War. The following podcast interview with Mitch, moderator of Red Strings & Maroons, gave me a wonderful opportunity to discuss my own research on Civil War dissent that began more than thirty years ago in the very region of North Carolina that inspired his blog. I hope you’ll give it a listen.
Categories: southern unionism