[Dora Costa and Matthew Kahn, guest-blogging, January 15, 2009 at 12:08am] Trackbacks
Social Networks and Their Impact after the U.S Civil War

Our last post sketched some of our key findings concerning the role of social networks and their effects on desertion and surviving POW camps during the U.S Civil War. In our new Princeton University Press book, Heroes and Cowards: The Social Face of War, we also use our unique longitudinal data to explore how the war affected the later life experience for Union Army soldiers. In this post, we discuss how deserters who survived the war lived their lives after the war. We also discuss our findings concerning black troops.

Deserters: Shame and Ostracism

During the U.S Civil War, home towns knew which of their sons had fought honorably and who had deserted. Spitzer and Avatar both commented that the need to maintain their reputations would keep men from deserting. And, as Spitzer predicted, we found that men from large cities were more likely to desert, all else equal. Spitzer then asked what happened to the deserters. After the war, would the cowards be welcomed back to their hometowns? Or would they feel shame and experience ostracism that would push them to move away?

If deserters left home, it was not because of written laws, but because of community mores. Once the war was over, deserters who had not been pardoned during one of the wartime presidential amnesties were dishonorably discharged with forfeiture of pay. They could return home without fear of arrest, but were deemed by the Federal government to have relinquished their citizenship or right to become a citizen of the United States and therefore their voting rights. Later court interpretations weakened federal law even further by specifying that the requirement could not be desertion alone but had to be a conviction of desertion. Furthermore, because states regulated voting rights, this federal disenfranchisement was widely viewed as ineffectual except in the territories and in the states that passed laws disenfranchising deserters (Lonn 1928: 202-207; United States War Department. 1880-1901. Series III, Vol. 5, 1900: 110).

By 1880 only Vermont still disenfranchised deserters. In Kansas, an 1866 amendment to the state constitution revoked voting rights from those dishonorably discharged as well as from felons and people who had aided in the rebellion, but an 1874 amendment struck dishonorable discharge as one of the listed offenses that led to a revocation of voting rights.

In thinking about the role of social sanction as a means to discourage desertion, we have been highly influenced by Robert Ellickson's Order without Law. He argued that social sanction can substitute for formal legal sanction in encouraging law and order. Individuals adhere to community codes of conduct either because of laws and legal punishments or because of systems of informal social control. The community can enforce social norms if it knows who fought honorably and who did not (and this was well known to all Civil War communities) and if it is willing to punish those who dishonored the community. "An enforcer is on the front line of the system of informal social control. Enforcers observe what actors do and respond by meting out calibrated rewards and punishments" (Ellickson 2001: 8). But enforcers are not compensated for their actions, so why would they punish? Communities that were pro-war supplied a disproportionately large number of soldiers who fought and died in the war. Raw emotion and anger at the men who dishonored the community and endangered their comrades would motivate community enforcers.

Using our longitudinal data base, we found 7,000 Union Army survivors in the 1880 census. We use this long run evidence to document three key facts. Relative to non-deserters, and return deserters, deserters were less likely to move back to their home county and state after the war. These men were also less likely to be found in the 1880 census. This indicates that they changed their names and their identities after the war. Finally, we document that deserters who were from pro-War counties were even less likely to move home after the War. We measure a county's pro-War sentiment based on the share of its voters who voted against Lincoln in the 1864 Presidential Election.

Black Soldiers: The Costs and Benefits of Diversity

Our sample of 6,000 black soldiers who fought for the Union Army allows us to examine the short run costs and long-run benefits of fighting in a diverse company. These troops represented a mixture of free men and ex-slaves who fought together in segregated all black units (with white commissioned officers). Within these black companies, soldiers differed with respect to their birth cohort and their county and state of enlistment. Similar to our results on desertion for white soldiers, we document that black soldiers were more likely to desert when they fought in more heterogeneous companies (based on geographical diversity and birth cohort). They were less likely to desert when fighting with men from the same plantation. These results suggest that black soldiers were more loyal to their unit when they fought in companies with men who had similar backgrounds.

We recognize that there are long run benefits from exposure to such diversity. After all, we can only learn from people who have had different experiences than we have had. We document that the black ex-slaves who fought with free men were more likely to become literate and were more likely to move to states after the war where their fellow company mates enlisted from. They were also more likely to drop their slave names, a sign that they were adopting a freeman's identity. Our findings on the short run costs but long term benefits of exposure to diversity echo the points made by modern advocates of affirmative action on university campuses today.

What Sort of Diversity Matters?

The River Temoc asked how we measured homogeneity. For white soldiers we looked at place of birth, occupation, and age cohort. For black soldiers we looked at place of birth, age cohort, and, for the slaves, whether they were from the same plantation. What mattered most? For black soldiers, it was place of birth. For white soldiers, it was occupation. (This echoes our finding that in modern day communities income inequality is more important determinant of volunteering, joining nonchurch organizations, and trust than ethnic or racial diversity).

Dasarge noted that unit cohesion is mostly a psychological issue and that while race, home areas, and religion all play roles, they are not determinative. Yes, our work emphasizes the importance of ethnicity, state of birth, occupation, age, and kinship in unit cohesion in the past. We are not claiming that these were the only factors that influenced the formation of social ties among Union Army soldiers. Nor are we claiming that these factors are as important now as they were in the past. Race and ethnicity no longer predetermine friendships and marriage. For example, in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, Asians were viewed as "forever foreigners," but marriages between whites and Asians have become increasingly common. Although black-white marriages are still rare, they are increasingly steadily. Even religion has become less important. What does seem to be becoming more important for volunteering, group participation, and trust is income diversity. And, one of the big determinants of income is education. Has education become the new social divide?

We recognize that highlighting the cohesion costs of diversity is not a politically correct statement. In his 2006 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture, Robert Putnam discusses his empirical analysis of modern day civic engagement in America. He reaches similar empirical conclusions on the consequences of diversity. He devotes ample attention to encouraging bridging social capital across groups. We hope that President-Elect Obama will point to his own diverse upbringing to start a national dialogue on this awkward issue. While the ongoing financial crisis has crowded out this issue in recent months, immigration and income inequality raise key policy issues in many nations around the world.