This paper examines the specter of the “internal enemy” during the U.S. Civil War, exploring how the 107th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, an ethnically German Union regiment, came to understand its purpose and identity as a unit. Mustered from counties deeply divided over the meaning and purpose of the war, the 107th Ohio went off to the front uncertain of their support back home. During a trying and underappreciated winter encampment from December 1862 to April 1863, the perception that civilians worked actively to undermine the war effort—reinforced by army headquarters, which not only suspended the delivery of Democratic newspapers to army camps, but also devised a furlough system that delivered riled soldiers to embattled home fronts—lent the regiment an unlikely new resolve. That resolve was tested, however, when in May, the regiment lost half of its strength in a disastrous stand at the battle at Chancellorsville. Seeking to contain damage to flagging morale and drawing on antebellum ideas about gender, army commanders and the northern press heaped blame for the Union defeat and charges of cowardice on the regiment (and the Eleventh Corps, stocked overwhelmingly with German immigrants). The men of the 107th
Ohio answered these allegations with a series of barbed editorials and resolutions, revealing at once their definition of loyalty, sense of betrayal, and emerging understanding of the war.
Reaching beneath the well-worn tale of a Union army and northern society bristling with nativism, this paper analyzes the internal enemy as a potent and malleable weapon that (1) refined soldiers’ ideas about courage, loyalty, and participation in combat; (2) could be deployed with some effectiveness by the accused; and (3) permits modern historians to map exciting new intersections between battlefield and home front.