Digital history project hopes to “complicate” Confederate-dominated history of University of Virginia in Civil War
“UVA Unionists” takes an in-depth look at the nearly 70 UVA alumni that fought against the Confederacy during the Civil War. It serves as something of a companion piece to their previous digital history project, “Black Virginians in Blue,” which looked at African-Americans in the Charlottesville area that joined the Union cause.
William Kurtz, Managing Director of the Nau Center and digital historian, said in his introduction they hope the project “will complicate the traditionally Confederate-dominated local history of Charlottesville and UVA during the war.”
The project might not have come to fruition without the work of then-graduate student Brian Neumann.
“When I first started as digital historian, I was really focused on Black Virginians in blue and finding as many black men from Albemarle County [who] served in the Union military as possible,” said Kurtz. “I put [this] project on the back burner, and I only had about twenty men I had found in my spare time.”
“So one day, Brain walks into my office and said, ‘I’ve just looked through all of the UVA antebellum records and the UVA catalogs, and I have a list of fifty men,’ and my jaw hit the floor,” he continued.
“I was like, ‘Who is this guy?’” he laughed.
Along with a team of undergraduates and scholars, Neumann and Kurtz eventually found a total of 68 UVA students, faculty, and alumni that fought for the Union, either with the Army, Navy, or state militias.
THE UVA BOYS IN BLUE
UVA Unionists were a distinct minority. Of the 600 students enrolled in 1861, 500 joined the Confederacy; only six joined the Union. Over 2000 UVA alumni fought for the South; only 62 fought with the North.
Now a PhD working with the Nau Center as an editorial assistant, Neumann explained in his presentation that not all of the men who joined were Northern-born. At least 28 of the 68 were Southern-born, and about half of them came from slave-owning families. They were a remarkably varied group, ranging in age from 14 to 57 and hailing from 14 different states. The majority served in combat roles, and 70% were officers.
He said this group of men reminds us “that Confederate nationalism was not inevitable or unanimous,” and they serve as a “part of the larger story of Southern division and dissent” during the war and beyond.
Neumann argued there was a deliberate postwar effort to “rewrite the past and erase the memory” of UVA alumni who fought for the Union.
In 1913, an editorial in the Staunton newspaper criticized UVA for not recognizing this group, causing the alumni newsletter to admit that “no complete list has been made of the University alumni who saw service in the Union Army. The roster of Confederate veteran alumni has been carefully compiled; the names of those who fell on the field of battle or died in hospitals have been inscribed on the bronze scroll on the south face of the Rotunda. There must have been many former students who could honestly follow the Stars and Bars but responded to another call, equally as patriotic and heroic.”
Neumann hopes the new website “recovers these men and their stories.”
“UVA Unionists” includes searchable biographies of most of the UVA men who fought for the North, primary source documents, maps, photographs, and supporting essays. You can check it out at http://community.village.virginia.edu/unionist/