Book Review of Claiming the Union: Citizenship in the Post–Civil War South by Susanna Michele Lee

Document Type

Book and Media Review

Publication Date



Review of: Claiming the Union: Citizenship in the Post–Civil War South. By Susanna Michele Lee. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Pp. 270. Cloth, $95.00.).


Susanna Michele Lee’s Claiming the Union sheds new light on something we thought we already knew. Lee examines the records of the Southern Claims Commission (SCC), the post–Civil War congressional commission tasked with assessing southerners’ claims for lost and damaged property, and interprets them differently from many scholars before her. The SCC records are a staple of Civil War loyalty scholarship, casting significant light on southerners marginalized or silenced by the Lost Cause’s facade of white unity. Claiming the Union is not another attempt to glean every last hint of wartime loyalty out of postwar records. Lee successfully places the wartime struggles over loyalty and citizenship in the SCC’s proper Reconstruction context. This placement of the SCC squarely within the Reconstruction era is insightful in and of itself. But Lee offers much more than that; she argues that the process embedded in the SCC’s direct engagement with southern civilians informed a “vernacular citizenship” that shaped postemancipation American citizenship (7). The overall result is a thoughtful and effective book that enriches our understanding of the complex nature of postemancipation American citizenship [...]