Your point is very well taken, and I agree that there is this weakness in the SCC papers. Nonetheless, I found that many of the folks claiming from Cherokee County, for instance, were very poor people. Moreover, of the claims I examined (about 400), I noted considerable refugee experiences among these claimants or their dependents. And, remember that the census material I was looking at dates to 1860--before the war--and thus does not represent the poverty created BY the war. This is a significant part of why unionists were radicalized, I think: they saw secessionists as the cause of their losing what property and stability they had before the war and wanted to punish them for it. Some of the most anti-secessionist men after the war had been those who had lost everything after having to abandon home and hearth to flee the rebels.
Another interesting factor that I noticed was that younger men--men who were still dependent on their fathers or living on parents' land before the war even if they were "of age"--tended not to claim on their own. They frequently were witnesses to parental testimony. But these men were, in the census, listed as independent with dependents of their own--they are also among the least wealthy of the people I examined, according to raw census data. But, though their youth made it less likely that they had accrued property of their own; nonetheless, they would not fall into a category of "landless poor," simply because they were still within the network of kin who helped them make a living until they were truly able to move out on their own.
I'd like to emphasize that I see the statistics as indicating greater diversity among unionists than has heretofore been noticed. The statistics do not represent an accurate "sample" of unionists--this is something we simply cannot get. I see the numbers as helping to encourage me to look for a range of factors shaping unionism, but then I also rely very heavily on witness testimony (i.e., non-claimants, many of whom fall out of the SCC frame), regimental histories, official recods of the war of the rebellion, the Freedmen's Bureau records, as well as a host of manuscript sources, to try to get at the "voices" that can be lost otherwise. I hope that this mitigates to whatever extent possible the tendency to lose the perspective of the poor or otherwise marginalized (like slaves).
Thanks for the comments!
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