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The Limits of LoyaltyThe Limits of Loyalty

Ordinary People in Civil War Mississippi

Jarret Ruminski

Narrated by Dave Arlington

Available from Audible

Book published by University Press of Mississippi

A reinterpretation of how ordinary citizens navigated life during wartime

Jarret Ruminski examines ordinary lives in Confederate-controlled Mississippi to show how military occupation and the ravages of war tested the meaning of loyalty during America's greatest rift. The extent of southern loyalty to the Confederate States of America has remained a subject of historical contention that has resulted in two conflicting conclusions: one, southern patriotism was either strong enough to carry the Confederacy to the brink of victory, or two, it was so weak that the Confederacy was doomed to crumble from internal discord. Mississippi, the home state of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, should have been a hotbed of Confederate patriotism. The reality was much more complicated.

Ruminski breaks the weak/strong loyalty impasse by looking at how people from different backgrounds—women and men, white and black, enslaved and free, rich and poor—negotiated the shifting contours of loyalty in a state where Union occupation turned everyday activities into potential tests of patriotism. While the Confederate government demanded total national loyalty from its citizenry, this study focuses on wartime activities such as swearing the Union oath, illegally trading with the Union army, and deserting from the Confederate army to show how Mississippians acted on multiple loyalties to self, family, and nation. Ruminski also probes the relationship between race and loyalty to indicate how an internal war between slaves and slaveholders defined Mississippi's social development well into the twentieth century.


“What makes The Limits of Loyalty a worthwhile contribution to the literature on the Civil War is the fine-grained insights it offers about the complex, contradictory, flawed, and therefore deeply human reaction of common people to a cataclysm that changed their lives.... Jarret Ruminski makes it clear that when seen through the eyes of ordinary people, war looks like nothing more than chaos, conflicts that throw up impossible choices and agonizing decisions. For this reason alone, Ruminski’s book is well worth the time of any Civil War historian. It should stand the test of time. ”

—Erik Mathisen, Civil War Book Review

“Jarret Ruminski has provided yet another layer of study to a growing body of scholarship on the Mississippi home front during the Civil War. He reminds us in convincing fashion and well-written prose, and adds more detail to the argument than ever before, that Confederate Mississippi was not the bastion of Confederatism so long assumed but was an enormously complicated environment ravaged by divided and multiple loyalties, often at the same time. ”

—Timothy B. Smith, author of Mississippi in the Civil War: The Home Front and Shiloh: Conquer or Perish

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University Press Audiobooks