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The Limits of Loyalty - Ordinary People in Civil War Mississippi

The Limits of Loyalty

Ordinary People in Civil War Mississippi

By Jarret Ruminski
Hardcover : 9781496813961, 306 pages, 22 b&w illustrations, 2 tables, September 2017
Paperback : 9781496830791, 306 pages, 22 b&w illustrations, 2 tables, October 2020

A reinterpretation of how ordinary citizens navigated life during wartime


Jarret Ruminski examines ordinary lives in Confederate-controlled Mississippi to show how military occupation and the ravages of war tested the meaning of loyalty during America's greatest rift. The extent of southern loyalty to the Confederate States of America has remained a subject of historical contention that has resulted in two conflicting conclusions: one, southern patriotism was either strong enough to carry the Confederacy to the brink of victory, or two, it was so weak that the Confederacy was doomed to crumble from internal discord. Mississippi, the home state of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, should have been a hotbed of Confederate patriotism. The reality was much more complicated.

Ruminski breaks the weak/strong loyalty impasse by looking at how people from different backgrounds--women and men, white and black, enslaved and free, rich and poor--negotiated the shifting contours of loyalty in a state where Union occupation turned everyday activities into potential tests of patriotism. While the Confederate government demanded total national loyalty from its citizenry, this study focuses on wartime activities such as swearing the Union oath, illegally trading with the Union army, and deserting from the Confederate army to show how Mississippians acted on multiple loyalties to self, family, and nation. Ruminski also probes the relationship between race and loyalty to indicate how an internal war between slaves and slaveholders defined Mississippi's social development well into the twentieth century.


"The Limits of Loyalty is a welcome addition to the scholarship on Mississippians' experiences in the Civil War. "

- Heidi Amelia-Anne Weber, SUNY Orange, Journal of Southern History, Volume LXXXV, No. 2, May 2019

"What makes The Limits of Loyalty a worthwhile contribution to the literature on the Civil War is the fine-grained insights it offers about the complex, contradictory, flawed, and therefore deeply human reaction of common people to a cataclysm that changed their lives. . . . Jarret Ruminski makes it clear that when seen through the eyes of ordinary people, war looks like nothing more than chaos, conflicts that throw up impossible choices and agonizing decisions. For this reason alone, Ruminski’s book is well worth the time of any Civil War historian. It should stand the test of time. "

- Erik Mathisen, Civil War Book Review

"Jarret Ruminski has provided yet another layer of study to a growing body of scholarship on the Mississippi home front during the Civil War. He reminds us in convincing fashion and well-written prose, and adds more detail to the argument than ever before, that Confederate Mississippi was not the bastion of Confederatism so long assumed but was an enormously complicated environment ravaged by divided and multiple loyalties, often at the same time."

- Timothy B. Smith, author of Mississippi in the Civil War: The Home Front and Shiloh: Conquer or Perish

"How could a person who traded with the Union enemy still be considered a loyal Confederate? Jarret Ruminski reveals the answer in this novel and nuanced study of common people in Mississippi during the Civil War and the complicated way that the needs of the individual might at times supersede those of the many. This wonderfully researched and thoughtfully argued study gives readers insight into the way that human beings act out and follow loyalties under the duress of wartime."

- William Blair, Walter L. and Helen P. Ferree Professor of American History and director of the Richards Civil War Era Center at Pennsylvania State University

"Deeply researched and skillfully analyzed, Jarret Ruminski's study of Civil War Mississippi illuminates why 'sacrifice-obsessed' Confederate nationalists failed to prevent a wide swath of white Mississippians from signing Union loyalty oaths, participating in a flourishing trade in contraband goods, and deserting the army. Marshaling impressive evidence, he differentiates between such citizens and Unionists and slaves. The excessive demands of the Confederate state rather than its goals, The Limits of Loyalty reveals, led many to place self, family, and neighborhood ahead of patriotic duty."

- Victoria E. Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, and author of The Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War