Dora L. Costa & Matthew E. Kahn
Heroes & Cowards: The Social Face of War
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008
One of the ideas that helped create the “Alt-Right” was laid out by Robert D. Putman in his book Bowling Alone (2000). Putnam argues that after the social revolution of the 1960s introduced the horrors of “vibrancy” and “diversity” on America, civic society itself began to fragment. Whites became loners in their own communities. Essentially, “diversity” destroys social trust. Prior to the 1960s, Americans bowled in leagues; now, they mostly bowl alone. Putnam’s ideas were reviewed in American Renaissance, in Taki’s Magazine, and by Vdare.com.
Further evidence for Putnam’s thesis is offered in Heroes & Cowards. Authors Dora Costa and Matthew Kahn (a married couple) mine data from Union Army Records of the time of the Civil War to see exactly how “diversity” affected military operations in the 1860s, the survival rates of POWs, and the later lives of veterans.
The reason why they focus on the Union Army as opposed to the Confederate Army is a twofold matter of available data. First, the Confederate Army’s records are not nearly as complete as the Union Records. Second, there were a series of Pension Acts passed to support Union Vets after the Civil War. As a result, Union Army records were copied, organized, and centralized.
Costa and Kahn examine the following factors. Did “diversity” and the problems identified by Putnam make men heroes or cowards? The assumption is that men in companies whose members were more alike were more likely to be a hero, and most diverse companies were likely to have more deserters. In this case, hero is defined as a soldier that did not desert and kept good order in battle.
The book starts with the stories of Private James Munroe Rich and Sergeant Adams E. French of D Company, 36th Massachusetts Infantry. Their company consisted of men involved in similar trades and mostly from Worchester County, Massachusetts. The men of Company D were mostly neighbors and friends. The company had several sets of fathers and brothers. Neither French nor Rich ran away in battle, and they turned out to be heroes. At the Battle of Cold Harbor, Private Rich and Sergeant French’s company suffered the highest casualties in the regiment. At Cold Harbor, Sergeant French fell mortally wounded while carrying the National Colors. Private Rich was wounded in the same action but survived. Meanwhile, in Company B of the 49th New York Infantry, Private George Farrell, who’d been given a large bounty for enlisting deserted twice, the second time permanently. Private Farrell was in a company that was mostly draftees and substitutes, few men knew each other in civilian life, and unlike the abolitionist Worchester County, the 49th New York Infantry’s New York City recruiting grounds consisted of many anti-war citizens. Private Farrell saw no men killed during his time in the service. He was a coward.
Costa and Kahn show that less diverse companies of whites often had fewer deserters. Additionally, of those that were likely to stay were first German born, and then native born Americans. The most likely foreign born people to desert were those from Ireland and Britain. Farmers and those of higher social class/incomes were also less likely to desert. After the war, deserters were likely to move away from home if they were from a pro-war, Lincoln voting area. In anti-war places, such as New York City’s Irish neighborhoods, deserters stayed put. Deserters who returned to the Union Army tended to be forgiven their indiscretion.
The Andersonville POW Camp
Whenever whites take into their organization some large group of non-whites there is always a cost which is borne in unanticipated ways. Although President Lincoln initially resisted calls for such, blacks were eventually allowed to enlist in the Union Army as the Union manpower needs became so large. The Southern Secessionist Political Faction thought that black troops were adding a foreign party to a domestic dispute, and prisoner exchanges ceased.
Until the black soldier issue arose, prisoner exchanges usually happened shortly after a battle, so initially both contestant armies weren’t required to feed or care for prisoners of war for very long. When the exchange system broke down over black soldiers, both the Union and Confederate governments were required to accommodate an increasing number of prisoners. Due to a variety of logistical reasons, most enlisted Union POWs were sent to Andersonville, Georgia by the Confederate Government. By 1864, the South was under severe military and economic stress, so food and medical care was severely reduced at the prison while at the same time the population of prisoners swelled to a number beyond what the prison could support.
Additionally, the Confederate Army separated the officers from the enlisted men, so Andersonville Prison degenerated into a collection of starving, angry men with no governing order. Some men went rogue against their comrades. They were called “Raiders” and became super-predators in the prison. They’d steal food and other items, such as improvised dishes upon which to eat the food.
The Raiders were beaten by self-organizing groups of alike men. If an entire regiment had surrendered, its members could easily band together against a Raider attack. Midwesterners turned out to provide a core of order. “At Andersonville the men from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and Kansas ‘spoke the same dialect, read the same newspapers, had studied McGuffey’s Readers, Mitchell’s Geography, and Ray’s Arithmetics at school, admired the same great men and generally held the same opinions on any given subject. It was never difficult to get them to act in unison.’” Eventually, the authorities in the Confederate Army responsible for the camp were informed of the situation and the Raiders’ lives were ended on the gallows.
Costa and Kahn analyze the data as to who survived or did not. Unrelated to Putnam’s negative ideas about diversity, taller men were at a greater risk of death, probably because the extra inches caused the taller men to need more nutrition. Again, the data shows that diversity didn’t help. Those who entered the prison with other men from their company (described in the statistical analysis as “friends”) had a better chance of survival over time. Those who entered the camp alone (or with less than 9 “friends” were in trouble. Men who spent time in Andersonville had shorter lives than veterans not captured.
Costa and Kahn also take a look at the Union Army’s black troops. Of course, Black troops deserted also, although at a slightly lesser rate than whites during the Civil War. However, Putnam’s Bowling Alone ideas also hold. Former slaves were less likely to desert if their white officers were abolitionists, and even less likely to desert if they served with fellow ex-slaves from the same plantation.
Former slaves in the same company as free born blacks became more likely able to read, the probability increasing the longer the ex-bondsman was in the army. Blacks exposed to more “diverse” blacks, such as an ex-slave exposed to freemen, men from a different state, or large city often had their world expanded. After the war, black veterans from diverse companies were more likely to have moved to new cities, new regions, and new places. Blacks who served in the Union Army moved higher on the social ladder than their fellow blacks that did not serve.
Costa and Kahn don’t make any remarks on the underpinning homogeneity in black American culture. North and south, east and west, most American blacks spoke with the same dialect and said and did the same basic things. Their subculture is mostly that of “being black.” Black author Taleeb Starkes stated in an interview, “There’s no diversity in the black community. It’s pretty much it’s just in our DNA to be one way, and if you’re not that way, you’re not (quote, unquote) ‘black.’ And I would start there, because a lot of these kids are so urbanized, if you bring anything new or different outside of sports, hip hop, those two things mainly, you may be frowned upon, and that’s what I would change. What I’d like to do is get the kids out, let them see other things. Outside of the city. Again, they’re so urbanized, it’s foreign. It worked for me as a kid. I got to see different things: trees, different place, it worked for me.”
The scope of the book is restricted to the Civil War and the veterans of the Union Army. It would have been nice to see how black troops continued on in the military in the historical circumstances following the great conflict. It is well documented that starting at the time of the Spanish-America War (1898) black troops engaged in a pattern of behavior that was far more uneven and still lasts until the present. This behavior runs from criminality, mutiny, hostility, fragging, and acts un-heroic, while at the same time some blacks have performed excellently. The Narrative regarding blacks in America changes after the Civil War. By the turn of the 20th century “The Narrative” regarding blacks is much like today, with concern over “racists” behind every bush, “lynching,” etc. It would be nice to see how recent black veterans’ records show in some way why some vets live out honest, regular lives while other blacks turn bad. What factors in the service possibly caused the radicalization of 2016 Dallas Police Shooter Micah Xavier Johnson and 2002 DC Sniper John Allen Muhammad? Where they exposed to a “white racist” in the service that caused a response or exposed to a barracks-dwelling, inspirational black revolutionary?
Of course, many whites are “red-pilled” in the service. One must wonder if blacks are “red pilled” in an opposite way.
Costa and Kahn have done work that is valuable for those seeking to see how mining data can support a theory such as that of Putnam’s ideas from Bowling Alone. Costa and Kahn show that yes, diverse companies were less functional in combat. However, there were also other factors. The anti-slavery Yankees were highly motivated to fight, while men born in the British Isles likely had the mental pre-requisites to head back to the British Empire. In the 1860s, the British were still painting the globe pink it would be easy for a British or Irish born man to head out to New Zealand or South Africa rather than risk it in the Army of the Potomac. Most interestingly is that men who became richer later in life were less likely to desert. One must wonder if self-discipline in the service translates to successful self-discipline in wealth creation.
The core of the Union Army, and the metapolitical framework that defined the cause the men fought for came from the mostly English radical Protestants who had funded the colonies of the Northeast. As long as the young soldiers were tied by blood to the older prophets constructing the metapolitics bounding the war, the men could bravely walk shoulder to shoulder against entrenched enemy positions. In the future, will America’s present diverse society be able to do that again?
5. There is an excellent online database for Civil War Soldiers run by the National Park Service. The database includes soldiers from both sides, but as mentioned above, the records of the Northern men are considerably better. https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/search-soldiers.htm
6. Military historian Victor Davis Hanson argues that keeping in good order — advancing or retreating on orders — is one of the key factors that make Western military forces so much more potent than non-Western militaries.
7. During the Civil War a substitute was a person paid to take the place of a drafted man. Wealthy people paid $300 to not get drafted.
8. Page 101.
10. Page 209.
12. One likely way to do this is to mine the data from the Veterans of the War with Spain. There are no living veterans of the war today but many veterans lived into the 1960s. For example, Span-Am War Vet Carl Sandburg (6th Illinois Infantry) lived until 1967. Unfortunately, most of the Veterans’ Records of most of the 20th century were destroyed in a 1973 fire and the National Archives in St. Louis. After 1973, there are too many living veterans who would not enjoy their data being mined.
More on the loss of the National Records: http://www.archives.gov/st-louis/military-personnel/fire-1973.html