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Dissertation Defenses

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Dissertation Defense for Susannah Deily-Swearingen


Department Contact Email: lara.demarest@unh.edu

Defense Title: Rebel Rebels: Race, Resistance, and Remembrance in the Free State of Winston

Defense Date and Time: 04/18/19 1:00 pm

Defense Location: Horton 445

Defense Advisor: "Harris, J. William"

Defense Abstract: Murderous division was the defining characteristic of Winston County, Alabama during the turbulent Civil War era. To this day this upcountry county located in the foothills of the Appalachians retains its eponymous title "The Free State of Winston"- a reference to the county's attempt to remain neutral during the war. It was not a universally welcomed position either within Winston County or in the somewhat sympathetic neighboring counties. A once tightly knit county of mostly non-slave-holding, subsistence farmers became homicidal, political enemies almost overnight. While there were many other divided and Unionist counties in the Confederate States, what historians to date have failed to explore is Winston’s unique attempt at neutrality.

Also missing from the historiography almost entirely are investigations of the region's Native American settlement and removal histories, the impact of these events on the ethnic composition of those living in Winston and surrounding counties, as well as the ways such factors might influence both issues of heritage and wartime allegiance.

My dissertation builds on the Winston and Removal scholars who have come before, but I argue that the scholarship has largely underexplored the intersection of Native American and Civil War histories, as well as the ethnographic studies of the Alabama upcountry. My dissertation will look at understudied questions of race, heritage and historical memory. What role did Native American ethnicity, culture, and traditions play in shaping the regional population's conception of themselves as Alabamians, Southerners, and Americans? How did the Civil War force these communities to reposition themselves within various structures of power? I will consider how the mixed allegiances and heritages of Winston's people both empowered and handicapped them within the larger systems of which they were a part.

The historical memory of Winston, like the historiography, lacks nuance. The county's Civil War memorial statue, "Dual Destiny," commissioned in 1986, shows a white, male soldier in a bifurcated Union and Confederate uniform. The monument makes no mention of neutrality, Native Americans, or race in its commemoration of the turbulent war years, and thus presents an incomplete sense of Winston's combatants as wholly white. It limits the memory of the county's struggle to an overly simple story in which the only choices were Union or Confederate allegiance. Fully exploring the historical memory of Winston in an era when, as historian Edward L. Ayers concludes, we are still fighting the war, could not be more meaningful.


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