2019 Jonathan Lande (Brown University), Disciplining Freedom: U.S. Army Slave Rebels and Emancipation in the Civil War (Oxford University Press, forthcoming)

The 59th annual Allan Nevins Prize is awarded to Jonathan Lande for his dissertation, “Disciplining Freedom: U.S. Army Slave Rebels and Emancipation in the Civil War.”

Lande’s work examines an often-told story–the liberating and emancipatory experience of the African American Civil War soldier–and forces readers to reexamine long-held assumptions and conclusions. Nearly 200,000 African Americans served in the Union military, most of whom saw such service as a requisite for freedom and citizenship. Yet historians scarcely speak of the thousands of disgruntled, rebellious black soldiers or of their experience in the military justice system. Nor do historians speak of the penalties black soldiers faced: corporeal punishment, “riding the sawbuck,” military incarceration, and even execution.

Relying upon more than 30,000 transcripts of military courts-martial in the National Archives, Jonathan Lande challenges the traditional triumphalist narrative of black soldiering–“the black badge of courage”–and finds a revelatory and disturbing ground-level anti-emancipatory reality.  Many black soldiers envisioned their service as an exercise in justice. Military officials, in their demand for discipline, thought otherwise. For them, discipline and coerced labor defined soldiering. For African American soldiers, however, such military discipline was interpreted as a continuum with slavery.

In this unique blend of military, political, African American, gender, legal, and social history, Jonathan Lande reveals how a military operation committed to the destruction of slavery subjected black men to violence to teach them the meaning of freedom and unwittingly recreated the violence that many formerly enslaved Americans sought to escape.

Jonathan Lande earned his Ph.D. at Brown University under the supervision of Professor Michael Vorenberg. He is currently a Schwartz Postdoctoral Fellow at the New-York Historical Society and the Lang College Department of History at The New School.