Confederates from Iowa:

Not to Defend, but to Understand

Much-maligned Democratic “Dirty dogs”: A review of Civil War Iowa and the Copperhead Movement

“Iowa nice” was in short supply during the Civil War.  Local politics reached new lows as Iowa Republicans demonized Peace Democrats (also known as Copperheads).

A colleague asked historian Hubert H. Wubben, “What can you say about Copperheads that Frank Klement hasn’t already said?”  (Klement had written the authoritative The Copperheads in the Midwest in 1960.)

To answer that question, Wubben borrowed from the scholarship of Leland Sage, the powerful arguments of Frank L. Klement, and the documentation of David L. Lendt.  Wubben also did original research.  The result was Wubben’s magisterial book, Civil War Iowa and the Copperhead Movement.[1]

This book tells the history of Iowa during the Civil War, from the perspective of the Democratic Party (and its various factions).  Starting in the 1850s, the author contrasts the divided Iowa Democratic Party with the vigorous and bold state Republican Party.

More recent scholarship by Mark E. Neely (The Fate of Liberty:  Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties) and William A. Blair (With Malice Toward Some:  Treason and Loyalty in the Civil War Era) serve to illuminate Wubben’s work.

An exception is Jennifer L. Weber’s Copperheads:  The Rise and Fall of Lincoln’s Opponents in the North.  She disagrees with Klement’s view that the Copperhead “fire in the rear” was mostly “a fairy tale,” a “figment of Republican imagination” comprised of “lies, conjecture, and political malignancy.”[2]

Weber’s argument could be stronger.  She seems to accept claims of the type that Klement had previously debunked.

Wubben has influenced nearly everything I’ve written and thought about Iowa Democrats in wartime, and about Iowa residents who left the state and served the Confederacy.  He notes:

Much of the story has already been told.  But not all of it by any means … Iowa’s history during the Civil War years will long remain fertile ground.[3]

I have documented 76 Iowa residents who left that state and served the Confederacy.  The stories of some Confederates from Iowa intersect with – and illuminate – Wubben’s work.

Historian Wubben combines extensive documentation, analysis, and persuasive reasoning.  I highly recommend his book.

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Thank you for reading my blog.  Please leave any comments and questions below.

[1] Leland Sage, A History of Iowa (Ames:  1974); Frank L. Klement, The Copperheads in the Middle West (Chicago:  1960); David L. Lendt, Demise of the Democracy:  The Copperhead Press in Iowa (Ames:  1963).

[2] Jennifer L. Weber, Copperheads:  The Rise and Fall of Lincoln’s Opponents in the North (Oxford:  2006), xi.

[3] Hubert H. Wubben, Civil War Iowa and the Copperhead Movement (Ames:  1980), xi.

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4 Comments

  1. Very interesting arguments about the dreaded Copperheads of the North. Excited about reading this book!

    • David Connon

      Hi, Jewellee. I have read Wubben’s book three times, and I appreciate it more each time I read it. Thanks for reading my blog.

  2. You always say “not to defend,” but is it fair to call you a pretty darned sympathetic apologist?

    • David Connon

      Hi, Dan. That’s a great question. I appreciate that you’re a “straight-shooter.” I am probably influenced by growing up during the Vietnam War. Therefore, I value civil liberties (and I respect the exercise of First Amendment rights). I admit that I’m an opinionated book reviewer. Regarding historical writing, I try to accurately transmit the information I’ve found within a historical context. But I’m also a historical interpreter, and I try to relate my “subjects” with an eye toward our common humanity. Thanks for reading my blog.

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