Kingsport Times-News: Soldiers from the North fought for Confederacy

Soldiers from the North fought for Confederacy

Ned Jilton • Oct 2, 2018 at 1:03 PM

In my last column I wrote about men from Confederate states that fought for the Union. This time I flip the question. Were there men from Union states that fought for the Confederacy?

The answer is a resounding yes.

There was considerable sympathy for the Southern cause in the North.

Ulysses S. Grant lived in Georgetown, Ohio, around the time he entered West Point. In his memoirs, he wrote of the town, “There was probably no time during the rebellion when, if the opportunity could have been afforded, it would not have voted for Jefferson Davis for President of the United States, over Mr. Lincoln, or any other representative of his party.”

Gen. Grant added that the only time the town might have voted for Lincoln was “after John Morgan’s men, in his celebrated raid through Ohio, spent a few hours in the village.”

Grant noted that “The line between the Rebel and Union element in Georgetown was so marked that it led to divisions even in the churches. There were churches in that part of Ohio where treason was preached regularly, and where, to secure membership, hostility to the government, to the war and to the liberation of the slaves, was for more essential than a belief in the authenticity or credibility of the Bible.”

Not only were there men from Union states in the Confederacy, it may surprise you to learn of what positions of power they held.


You might think that Robert E. Lee was the highest ranking general in the Confederate army. But until he was made general in chief of all the armies in January 1865, he was not.

In the beginning, Lee was the third highest ranking general, while Albert Sidney Johnston was the second highest ranking general and the top ranking general was Samuel Cooper, a New Yorker.

It’s one of those fun facts people can throw around in a game of trivia. At the start of the Civil War, the highest ranking officer in the Union army came from a Confederate state and the highest ranking officer in the Confederate army came from a Union state.

Cooper, born in Dutchess County, New York, was a West Point graduate, class of 1815, and eventually reached the rank of adjutant general in the U.S. Army.

But it was love, not war, that brought Cooper to Virginia.

Cooper met and married a sister of Virginia Sen. James M. Mason and through her became a part of the Southern cause, resigning from the U.S. Army on March 7, 1861, and became a full general (equivalent to a four-star general today) effective May 16, 1861.

Cooper never commanded in the field but ran the war efforts in Richmond, where his experience as adjutant general in the U.S. Army was of great value.

Cooper’s greatest contribution to the history of the South came at the end of the war. After Joe Johnston surrendered the Army of Tennessee, Cooper preserved all the Confederate records he could rather than destroy them.

Thanks to him, the official records of the Civil War represent both sides, and the memories of many Confederate soldiers and officers are preserved.


Born in Philadelphia, John C. Pemberton graduated from West Point with the class of 1837 and was twice brevetted for gallantry in the Mexican-American War.

As with Cooper, it was love and not war that brought Pemberton south when he married Martha Thompson of Virginia after he returned from the war in Mexico.

Pemberton resigned his commission in the U.S. Army and joined the Confederacy, where he first served in Georgia and South Carolina.

Pemberton quickly worked his way up the ranks and became a lieutenant general effective from Oct. 10, 1862, and was placed in command of the Department of Mississippi and Eastern Louisiana.

It was Gen. Pemberton that commanded at Vicksburg when Grant came knocking.

Pemberton held Vicksburg as long as he could, but the conflict between Gen. Joe Johnston and President Jefferson Davis meant there would never be any help. After holding out for 40 days, Pemberton was forced to surrender.

When Pemberton was exchanged and returned to service, there was no place for him in the army as a general.

Rather than go home to wait for a general’s position to open, with Davis’ approval, he resigned his commission as a lieutenant general to be appointed a lieutenant colonel of artillery, a massive reduction in rank. He served at this rank for the rest of the war.

After the war, he lived on a farm near Warrenton, Virginia, eventually returning to Pennsylvania. He died in 1881 and was buried in Philadelphia.


When the legislature of Kentucky voted to abandon neutrality and join the Union cause against the Confederacy, John C. Breckinridge turned his back on his native state and came south.

Breckinridge, vice president of the United States before the Lincoln administration came to power, quickly proved himself an able general even though he never attended West Point or any other military academy.

He distinguished himself in some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War — Shiloh, Murfreesboro and Chickamauga — before being placed in command of the Department of Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee.

Gen. Breckinridge joined with Gen. Jubal Early in the 1864 Valley Campaign, which ended with the raid on Washington D.C.

Davis later called Breckinridge to Richmond to become the Confederate secretary of war on Feb. 4, 1865.

After the surrender, Breckinridge left the United State and went to England, then Canada before returning to Kentucky, where he was welcomed home to Lexington in 1869. He died there in 1875.


Even though battle lines were drawn along state lines in the Civil War, the issues divided people everywhere, regardless of where they lived.

It just goes to show that you should not make assumptions about people based simply on where they live.

Ned Jilton II is a page designer and photographer for the Times News as well as the writer of the “Marching with the 19th” Civil War series. You can contact him at [email protected] .

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