The Southern Mind under Union Rule: The Diary of James Rumley, Beaufort, North Carolina, 1862-1865
Edited by Judkin Browning
(June 2010 Civil War News)
Illustrated, index, bibliography, 200 pp., 2009, University Press of Florida, www.upf.com, $34.95.
At the start of the Civil War, James Rumley lived pretty well in Beaufort, N.C. He was well educated, led a good life as county clerk, and owned property and a couple of slaves. Unmarried, he had no family to support.
He was an ardent Southerner, but at age 50 did not have to enlist. Then the Yankees came and ruined everything.
The Southern Mind under Union Rule is Rumley’s diary from March 1862 to August 1865. It was probably the arrival of Federal forces at Beaufort (a port town) that prompted Rumley to begin writing. Previously published in a Beaufort newspaper in 1910, the diary has been masterfully edited by Judkin Browning, a professor at Appalachian State.
Rumley’s text is not a recording of personal events, but essentially an extended rant against the Yankees and their policies. When Union officers made everyone take the oath of allegiance, Rumley did so but privately affirmed that he considered the act not binding.
As Professor Browning astutely notes, Rumley used his diary to vent against the Northerners’ “reign of military despotism,” even as he grudgingly acquiesced to it.
When Yankees took people’s property and freed their slaves, Rumley railed against this “outrage upon private rights.” When Union troops aided and sheltered runaway slaves, he detested this as just another of “the hideous features of fanaticism.”
When Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation, Rumley termed it a “cruel outrage upon slave holders” and an “astounding stretch of power” by “a miscreant who thus tramples constitution and sacred personal rights in the dust.”
With white superiority upended and ex-slaves flaunting their new freedom, Rumley bemoaned “the dark reign of ‘Niggerism’” which had befallen eastern Carolina.
When Northern missionaries started teaching freed people how to read and write, Rumley was outraged: “to have these institutions of Yankeedom forced upon us by a conquering enemy, in utter contempt of the laws of the state and the general southern sentiment on the subject, with other insults from the insolent foe, is exasperating beyond conception.”
He mocked Lincoln’s announcement of a fast-day for the success of “his abolition, nigger-worshipping and thieving army.” Worst of all was the Yankees’ recruitment of black soldiers into their army.
“The arming of negroes of the south against their masters” was to Rumley “an outrage against humanity and civilized warfare.”
Dr. Browning handles these harsh words and sharp sentiments with an admirable detachment. A careful editor, he provides full explanations of individuals and events mentioned in the diary.
Most impressive are his citations for the numerous works quoted by Rumley — including classical and Victorian poetry, the Bible and Shakespeare’s plays. In a few cases he misses an opportunity to offer context (e.g., why did Burnside put the area under martial law in April 1862?). But a reader’s desire for more information is usually a compliment to an editor, not a criticism.
To the very end Rumley kept hoping for Confederate victory. Jubal Early’s raid on Washington and Grant’s failure at the Crater were exciting, just as Sherman’s capture of Atlanta was depressing. Finally, at news of Lee’s surrender, Rumley conceded that “the friends of the Confederacy are pale with despair.”
At the close of his writing, recalling “the light of happier days, when we were under a white man’s government,” Rumley still hoped that President Johnson would not pursue Negro enfranchisement, which he believed would be a “revolting degradation.”
Browning claims that Rumley’s writing “is one of the only published diaries of a secessionist living under Union occupation in the South.” Whether that is the case, the Rumley diary powerfully demonstrates the culture of white supremacy in the Confederate South.
Yet the editor’s implication that Rumley’s racist, almost rabid, partisanship reflected “the Southern mind” during the war — as if there were only one — bestows undue notoriety upon an author whose poisonous prejudices have, we hope, been transcended.
This is a diary that cannot be ignored.
Reviewer: Stephen Davis
Stephen Davis studied under Bell Wiley at Emory University where his doctoral dissertation topic was “Johnny Reb in Perspective: The Confederate Soldier’s Image in the Southern Arts.” He was book review editor for Blue & Gray magazine for more than 20 years. His next book, What the Yankees Did to Us: Sherman’s Bombardment and Wrecking of Atlanta, will be published by Mercer University Press.