“We know remarkably little about how the Shenandoah Valley’s African Americans negotiated the vexing uncertainties of secession, civil war, and Reconstruction. This compelling and accessibly written narrative foregrounds the struggles of freedom-seeking enslaved persons in America’s most turbulent era.”—Brian Matthew Jordan, author of Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War
“A groundbreaking study that demonstrates how African Americans shaped the Civil War era. Noyalas systematically dismantles the old myth that the Shenandoah Valley did not have enslaved populations and instead weaves a compelling story of African American resistance and perseverance in a region deeply contested by war.”—James J. Broomall, author of Private Confederacies: The Emotional Worlds of Southern Men as Citizens and Soldiers
This book examines the complexities of life for African Americans in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley from the antebellum period through Reconstruction. Although the Valley was a site of fierce conflicts during the Civil War and its military activity has been extensively studied, scholars have largely ignored the Black experience in the region until now.
Correcting previous assumptions that slavery was not important to the Valley, and that enslaved people were treated better there than in other parts of the South, Jonathan Noyalas demonstrates the strong hold of slavery in the region. He explains that during the war, enslaved and free African Americans navigated a borderland that changed hands frequently—where it was possible to be in Union territory one day, Confederate territory the next, and no-man’s land another. He shows that the region’s enslaved population resisted slavery and supported the Union war effort by serving as scouts, spies, and laborers, or by fleeing to enlist in regiments of the United States Colored Troops.
Noyalas draws on untapped primary resources, including thousands of records from the Freedmen’s Bureau and contemporary newspapers, to continue the story and reveal the challenges African Americans faced from former Confederates after the war. He traces their actions, which were shaped uniquely by the volatility of the struggle in this region, to ensure that the war’s emancipationist legacy would survive.
Jonathan A. Noyalas is director of the McCormick Civil War Institute at Shenandoah University. He is the author or editor of several books, including Civil War Legacy in the Shenandoah: Remembrance, Reunion and Reconciliation.
A volume in the series Southern Dissent, edited by Stanley Harrold and Randall M. Miller