Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Bitter Fruit of Secession: The Union Army's Wartime Occupation of Southeastern Virginia
by Sledge, Stephen B., Ph.D., George Mason University, 2012, 443; 3505856
Abstract (Summary)

The Department of Virginia fulfilled its mission to occupy and govern southeastern Virginia, albeit with significant failings, during the Civil War. Although the Department was plagued by guerilla operations and irregular warfare, it suppressed civilian upon civilian violence. Commanders in the Department achieved two of the Lincoln Administration's critical political goals. They restored southeastern Virginia to federal authority, and they set conditions that enabled local elections of loyal civilian leaders. Despite these successes, the Department never created conditions that generated a broad basis of support for Unionism.

The Department's reputation was tarnished by its poor treatment of black refugees, but its refugee operations also achieved the political aims of the Lincoln Administration by maintaining the existing social order and preserving stability. The Department's Negro Superintendents and the American Missionary Association representatives successfully pressed for measures of relief, education, and uplift. Department commanders John E. Wool, John A. Dix, John G. Foster, and Edward O. C. Ord implemented limited policies that emphasized economy, control, and labor management. In stark contrast, General Benjamin F. Butler established an innovative program that challenged the social order. Though short-lived, his programs provided a large-scale model for other Union Army occupation commands and provided a prototype for Freedmen's Bureau activities during Reconstruction. Unfortunately, the Department's refugee operations emphasized black incompetence and deferred to the white-dominated social order by the end of the Civil War.

The most egregious failing of the Department was its mishandling of trade in 1863 and 1864. Department commanders failed to eradicate the endemic corruption that flowed from confusing and contradictory federal policies regarding across-the-lines trading and cotton procurement. Whereas General John A. Dix opened trade in the region to prevent a humanitarian disaster and instill a sense of Unionism, his command only opened the region to illicit trade networks and corruption exploited by General Butler and his cronies. Southeastern Virginia served as a significant illicit trade center that may have sustained the Confederacy in the last year of the war. The illicit trade was curtailed only when Generals Ulysses. S. Grant and Edward O. C. Ord curtailed the practices in early 1865.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Censer, Jane T.
Commitee: Hamner, Christopher H., Petrik, Paula
School: George Mason University
Department: History
School Location: United States -- Virginia
Source: DAI-A 73/08(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American history, Public policy, Military history
Keywords: Civil War, Department of Virginia, Irregular warfare, Martial law, Military occupation, U.S. Army
Publication Number: 3505856
ISBN: 978-1-267-30549-7
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