Project

PhD, History, University of New Hampshire

Program

ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowships

Department

Rural Humanities Initiative

Work Affiliation

Cornell University

PhD Granting Institution

University of New Hampshire

Position Description

"Rebel Rebels: Race, Resistance, and Remembrance in the Free State of Winston"

Murderous division was the defining characteristic of Winston County, Alabama during the turbulent Civil War era. To this day, the county, located in the foothills of the Appalachians, retains its eponymous title “The Free State of Winston” — a reference to the county’s attempt to remain neutral during the war. It was not a universally welcomed position either within Winston County or in the somewhat sympathetic neighboring counties. A once tightly-knit community of mostly non-slaveholding, subsistence farmers became homicidal, political enemies almost overnight. While there were many other divided and Unionist counties in the Confederate States, what historians to date have failed to explore is Winston’s unique attempt at neutrality. Also missing from the historiography almost entirely are investigations of the region’s Native American settlement and removal histories, the impact of these on the ethnic composition of those living in Winston and surrounding counties, as well as the ways such factors might influence both issues of heritage and wartime allegiance.
My dissertation builds on the Winston and Removal scholars who have come before, but, I argue, the scholarship to date has largely underexplored the intersection of Native American and Civil War histories, as well as the ethnographic studies of the Alabama upcountry. In my attempt to correct this deficit, my dissertation examines issues of race, heritage and historical memory. What role did Native American ethnicity, culture, and traditions play in shaping the regional population’s conception of themselves as Alabamians, Southerners, and Americans? How did the Civil War force these communities to reposition themselves within various structures of power? I consider how the mixed allegiances and heritages of Winston’s people both empowered them and handicapped them within the larger systems of which they were a part.
The historical memory of Winston County, like the traditional historiography, lacks nuance. The county’s Civil War memorial statue, “Dual Destiny,” commissioned in 1986, shows a white, male soldier in a bifurcated Union and Confederate uniform. The monument makes no mention of neutrality, Native Americans, or race in its commemoration of the turbulent war years. It limits the memory of the county’s struggle to an overly simplified story in which the only choices were Union or Confederate allegiance. Fully exploring the historical memory of Winston County in an era when, as historian Edward L. Ayers concludes, the nation is still fighting the war, could not be more meaningful or instructive for understanding the conflict and its combatants as well as the larger communities of Civil War memory still dividing the nation.