Anti-Catholicism has had a long presence in American history. The Civil War in 1861 gave Catholic Americans a chance to prove their patriotism once and for all. Exploring how Catholics sought to use their participation in the war to counteract religious and political nativism in the United States, Excommunicated from the Union reveals that while the war was an alienating experience for many of 200,000 Catholics who served, they still strove to construct a positive memory of their experiences in order to show that their religion was no barrier to their being loyal American citizens.
“Excommunicated from the Union is a welcome beginning toward filling a gap in the study of nineteenth-century US Catholicism, which has emphasized Irish Catholics almost exclusively. As such, the work raises vital questions for further research.”
—Catholic Books Review
William Kurtz's intensive research has produced a book which puts forward a fascinating thesis about American Catholic history. Kurtz shows how, in the early years of the American Civil War, Northern Catholics experienced the tantalizing prospect of being accepted as fellow-citizens by the dominant Protestants. Northern Protestants were impressed by the valor of Catholic soldiers, the piety and courage of Catholic chaplains, and the self-sacrifice of nuns who nursed the wounded from both sides and of all religions. But in Kurtz's telling, this initial period of good relations was a false dawn. Protestant opinion grew more sour toward Catholics as the war went on. Controversies over the war and slavery split the Catholic Church in the North into factions, with a numerous group of Northern Catholics opposing emancipation and resisting the war effort. In the wake of all this, many Northern Protestants resumed their traditional suspicions of the Church. Catholics after the war faced this revived Protestant hostility. This excellent book would be great for Civil War buffs and those interested in American religion.
—Max Longley, author of For the Union and the Catholic Church: Four Converts in the Civil War
In this deeply researched and ably argued book, William Kurtz has re-set the compass on Catholic identity and interest, religion and the Civil War, and much more. With uncommon insight, Kurtz shows that even as the war provided the opportunity for Irish and German Catholics to become “American” by fighting for and supporting the Union war effort, it also divided them as to the social, cultural, and political cost of accepting the dominant Republican and Protestant terms for inclusion in that Union and their own need to maintain the integrity of their faith. By tracking Catholic thinking, behavior, and memory, Kurtz discovers how the war led Catholics to become both more American and more Catholic at the same time. The result is a history of Catholics, and religion, and the war that is more complex and compelling than the commonplaces about the supposed assimilating effects of the war in creating a unified civil religion. In sum, Kurtz’s book is simply the best study of Catholics in/and the war and the way the war affected the place and perception of Catholics in the Union.
—Randall M. Miller
Saint Joseph’s University
“A significant contribution to scholarship on both American Catholicism and the American Civil War. Excommunicated from the Union fills a large gap in the literature, offering fresh material on Catholic chaplains, giving valuable attention to both the English and foreign-language Catholic press and drawing provocative conclusions about the war’s impact on anti-Catholic prejudice.”
author of God’s Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War
Excommunicated from the Union is a carefully researched monograph, drawing from a wide array of archival sources. It is a concise, engaging volume that deserves to be read widely, among scholars of nineteenth century U.S. religion and Civil War historians, but also students in college and graduate seminar courses that delve into religious identity and the war. This superb study of the U.S. Catholic community in the Civil War era should remind scholars, students, and armchair historians alike of the important role Catholics played in the war and how the war in turn shaped Catholics’ communion of faith.
—Civil War Book Review
Excommunicated from the Union is an outstanding work of Civil War history and recommended for all scholars and students interested in religion in the conflict, the North in the war, and more generally the Irish and German immigrant experience.
Christian B. Keller
Journal of the Civil War Era