Dec 17

Military Occupation, Emancipation, and the Civil War: Essential Scholarship

Historians of the American Civil War have authored an impressive and increasingly complex history of the common soldiers who waged the conflict. Explaining soldiers’ motivations to enlist, charting their steadfast commitment to the respective national causes, unfolding their multifaceted views on race and emancipation, and placing citizen-volunteers within their mid-nineteenth-century world, the rich scholarship on soldiering during the Civil War seems remarkably comprehensive. My new book In the Wake of War: Military Occupation, Emancipation, and Civil War America draws on this resonant scholarly tradition to investigate how United States soldiers understood the era’s wars of military occupation, the layered conflicts waged well beyond the front lines. The book contends that military occupation—a central and contested component of our modern military tradition—is not a dead artifact of the American past.

In the Wake of War engages the perspectives of United States soldiers who served in three separate yet intimately connected military conflicts: the Mexican-American War, Civil War, and Reconstruction. The book thus aims to link the American Civil War to its broader cultural context, revealing how the events of 1861 to 1865 were shaped by a military ethos that preceded secession and which continued to influence the dawn of peace after Appomattox. The book argues strongly for the continuity of republican military culture from which historical actors gauged military occupation at once against the citizen-soldier tradition and the long-standing fears of standing armies, each of which posed significant implications for the conduct of occupation, the composition of volunteer armies, and the processes of state-sanctioned social and political change.

Approaching military occupation through the eyes of the occupier—rather than the occupied— reveals a war within a war, a conflict fraught with its own unique traits and spirit. These wars of occupation were just as complex, dynamic, and consequential as those waged on the front lines. Exploring how United States soldiers, who reflected the broader society from which they came, interpreted occupation on both ideological and practical grounds reveals an in-the-ranks perspective on an unprecedented role of American armies in international and domestic wars and crises. This history of military occupation thus reveals how occupation brought soldiers face-to-face with a host of critical problems in nineteenth-century America: the relationship between citizen and government; the balance between republican corporatism and democratic individualism; faith in the exceptional nature of Union; the complications of race in a white democracy; the intricate negotiation of gender roles; the limits of free-market capitalism; the boundaries of restricted warfare; the military’s simultaneously celebrated and ambivalent place in international affairs and domestic life; the role of standing armies in the American imagination; and the uncertain scope of the federal state in the nebulous transition from war to peace.

In the Wake of War contributes especially to a time-honored conversation on emancipation—particularly Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation—and the enlistment of African American soldiers into Union armies. Race emerged as a central feature of the occupation experience. The book engages how the Proclamation spoke to white anxieties about military occupation, which shaped how African American men were integrated into federal armies and how they designed their own conceptions of military service and the purpose of military force.  The mass enlistment of African American soldiers pushed white leaders to define service in auxiliary forces along lines of race. The politics and rhetoric of emancipation served to confine black troops to limited roles, including the “dishonorable” duties of service behind the lines. Yet in so doing, black soldiers emerged on the front lines of occupation, using their new-found martial authority to great advantage in unbalancing traditional power dynamics in the South. African American occupiers defied the racial status quo and, from the points of their bayonets, destabilized the very society once guilty of their enslavement, underscoring the stunning impact of wartime emancipation.

While the act of writing history is often a solitary and sometimes lonely exercise, I am grateful to the community of scholars who have so richly influenced In the Wake of War. The following books (in addition to so many others) have shaped my own historical philosophy and have underwritten many of the arguments in the book.

Gary W. Gallagher, The Union War (Harvard University Press, 2011). Perhaps no other scholar has shaped my thinking on Civil War history more than Gary Gallagher. Emphasizing the idea of Union—the loyal citizenry’s conception of the American republic as the world’s unique experiment in democratic republicanism—Gallagher’s work reminds us that the Union’s war was conducted on the basis of limitation, guided by a degree of restraint, and always measured with an eye toward peace and a restoration of the republic. Emancipation, death of the “Slave Power,” and the enlistment of African American soldiers emerged as unanticipated but critical elements in this war for Union. Gallagher’s insistence on the contemporary power of Union in the loyal imagination, coupled with his belief that military institutions and affairs should assume a central place in our narratives, guide the intellectual basis of In the Wake of War.

Mark Grimsley, The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy toward Southern Civilians, 1861-1865 (Cambridge University Press, 1995). Grimsley’s book was one of the first to treat Civil War-era military occupation as a problem of federal policy. Exposing the complex nature of waging wars against hostile civilians, Grimsley demonstrated the profound challenges of employing volunteer soldiers in nineteenth-century wars of invasion and occupation.

Stephen V. Ash, When the Yankees Came: Conflict and Chaos in the Occupied South, 1861-1865 (University of North Carolina Press, 1995). Published the same year as Grimsley’s Hard Hand of War, Ash’s treatment of occupation focuses primarily on the social and political changes incurred at the southern grassroots. Like Grimsley, Ash compelled scholars to see how Union occupation unleashed rival power dynamics in the Confederate South and layered the region with competing loyalties contingent on proximity and reach of federal armies.

Mark E. Neely, Jr. The Civil War and the Limits of Destruction (Harvard University Press, 2007). Like Grimsley and Ash, Neely’s work sought to rewrite old Lost Cause narratives that indicted the Civil War as an unlimited total war. Placing the conflict within broader hemispheric, cultural, and racial contexts, Neely encouraged readers to see that the Civil War’s white combatants placed remarkable restraints on their conduct, limiting and reducing the scale of wartime devastation. The book, like In the Wake of War, suggests that American conduct during the invasion of Mexico was far different from that which occurred during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

William W. Freehling, The South vs. the South: How Anti-Confederate Southerners Shaped the Course of the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 2001). While I relied on the expansive literature concerning the processes of emancipation and the enlistment of African American soldiers into Union armies, no book sparked my thinking on the Emancipation Proclamation like Freehling’s work. Freehling pushed me to read deeply into the Proclamation, locating obscure and subtle meanings in Lincoln’s call for black troops, the implications of which shaped how occupation unfolded during both the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Mark Wahlgren Summers, The Ordeal of the Reunion: A New History of Reconstruction (University of North Carolina Press, 2014). Like Gallagher’s work, Summer’s treatment of Reconstruction understands the concept of Union as the driving force of mid-nineteenth-century life. Occupation in the transition from war to peace thus inhabited a foreign space for loyal citizens who looked with skepticism at a powerful, expensive military state managing political affairs and regulating social conditions in the guise of what they imagined as an imposing standing army. Such institutions were antithetical to the very idea of Union preserved during the war.

Gregory P. Downs, After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War (Harvard University Press, 2015). Arguing that the war continued in a legal form in the months and years after Appomattox, Downs sees United States Army that occupied the southern states as the central institution in preserving the promise of emancipation. Only the army, as an extension of the federal state, could manage the chaos of Confederate defeat and provide critical safety to freedpeople embarking on new lives of liberation. But Downs recognizes, much like Summers and myself, that the very military power necessary to manage a robust occupation was stripped by a broader culture of democratic republicanism that looked askance at powerful domestic military institutions.

Andrew S. Bledsoe, Citizen-Officers: The Union and Confederate Junior Officer Corps in American Civil War (Louisiana State University Press, 2015). I went to graduate school with Drew Bledsoe, with whom I have spent untold hours discussing the culture and ideology of the citizen-soldier in the early American and Civil War experiences. My understanding of citizenship, volunteer soldiering, and the republican military ethos—hallmarks of both his and my books—are drawn from our many conversations about the existing literature.

Numerous scholars recently have published excellent books on military occupation during the American Civil War. I have benefited greatly from their work and our mutual conversations. They all deserve mention here because their scholarship assumes a prominent place in the framing and conclusions of In the Wake of War.

  • Judkin Browning, Shifting Browning: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press, 2011)
  • Bradley R. Clampitt, Occupied Vicksburg (Louisiana State University Press, 2016)
  • Joseph W. Danielson, War’s Desolating Scourge: The Union’s Occupation of North Alabama (University Press of Kansas, 2012)
  • H. Dilbeck, A More Civil War: How the Union Waged a Just War (University of North Carolina Press, 2016)
  • Earl J. Hess, The Civil War in the West: Victory and Defeat from the Appalachians to the Mississippi (University of North Carolina Press, 2012)
  • Michael D. Pierson, Mutiny at Fort Jackson: The Untold Story of the Fall of New Orleans (University of North Carolina Press, 2009)

Andrew F. Lang is assistant professor of history at Mississippi State University.

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Oct 17

Writing Hood’s Texas Brigade: Books on Civil War Soldiers and Families

Over the last fifteen years, historians have increased their focus on the indelible link between Civil War military units and their families and home communities. This connection played a defining role in soldiers’ decisions to volunteer, to continue or abandon their military service, and veterans’ ability to adapt to postwar life. While historians have recognized the influence of regional and cultural traditions, class, and age in shaping enlistment or desertion patterns, it is only recently that scholars have come to appreciate the significance of Civil War units as communities in their own right that reflected the values of the families and towns in which they were raised and to which many of them returned.

As a war and society scholar by training, my research and writing were first influenced by this new approach to Civil War unit histories about ten years ago. Early drafts of my book Hood’s Texas Brigade: The Soldiers and Families of the Confederacy’s Most Celebrated Unit focused on traditional questions of military service: Why did these men volunteer? Why did they continue to serve? What drew them to this unit? What motivated them in combat? What made this such an elite brigade? How did the war change these men? I came to realize, though, that while I was studying the men in battle, in camp, and on campaign, they focused instead on events at home. They worried about their wives managing their farm, the diseases that plagued their children and livestock, and economic devastation that could follow poor crops and worse weather. Texas Brigade soldiers certainly discussed the war and what it meant to them, their families, and their communities. They struggled to describe the horrors of a battlefield and the fear and exhilaration combat inspired. But this was only a part of their wartime experience. To capture the full picture, I realized that I had to study their families and home communities too. Not just their socio-economic backgrounds, but rather the familial and community connections that I saw reflected in their companies, regiments, and brigade. I noticed references to men on neighboring farms in letters home, and how casualty lists often predicted long term economic as well as personal hardships for entire communities. Only by incorporating these issues could I understand the Texas Brigade’s full experience in the Civil War.

Seeking the help of other scholars, I turned most often to these books (and sometimes to conversations with manuscripts in progress) while writing Hood’s Texas Brigade:

Ward Hubbs’ Guarding Greensboro: A Confederate Company in the Making of a Southern Community (University of Georgia Press, 2003) and Richard M. Reid’s Freedom for Themselves: North Carolina’s Black Soldiers in the Civil War Era (University of North Carolina Press, 2008). Ward Hubbs and Richard Reid were models of the argument that, when analyzing a Civil War unit, scholars must examine soldiers and their home communities as one entity. Companies and regiments become their own communities, but their families constantly pulled on them, supported them, and inspired them. A volunteer’s civilian roots, Reid and Hubbs remind us, could infect soldiers with petty grievances, but they also offered a much-needed support structure and could inspire a tremendous willingness to sacrifice.

Lesley J. Gordon’s A Broken Regiment: The 16th Connecticut’s Civil War (Louisiana State University Press, 2014) examines a unit known during the war for their failures rather than their successes. But through the veterans’ and their families’ efforts to reclaim their honor and redefine their service, a broken unit became a celebrated regiment.

In Shades of Green: Irish Regiments, American Soldiers, and Local Communities in the Civil War Era (Fordham University Press, 2017), Ryan W. Keating rightly argues that it was connections to soldiers’ home communities, more than their ethnic traditions, that proved their strongest motivating influence.

In General Lee’s Army: From Victory to Collapse (Free Press, 2008), Joseph T. Glatthaar analyzes the socio-economic influences, political connections, and relationships between officers and men that helped make the Army of Northern Virginia so successful but that also sowed the seeds of its defeat.

These works influenced my conclusion that when we study Civil War soldiers’ military service, it’s not just their service that we need to understand. Units raised from neighborhoods and small towns were reflections of their families and the entire community. When regiments were celebrated or castigated in the press or long after the war, so too were the families and communities from which they came. Sweeping studies of Civil War soldier service and motivation like James McPherson’s For Cause and Comrades or Kenneth Noe’s Reluctant Rebels were path breaking, but historians are right to now argue that service in specific units and a man’s home community could have just as much influence on a soldier’s wartime behavior than the more commonly studied factors of age and socio-economic background.

In the Texas Brigade, for example, men volunteered to serve over a thousand miles from home despite the fact they could have fought much closer to their homes without dishonor. They returned to their brigade after capture or wounds despite the unusually high casualty rates their regiments suffered, and they made these dangerous decisions when desertion rates in the army overall were rising. The officers and men of the Texas Brigade expected much from each other and gave much to each other, they came from families who were able to sustain that level of sacrifice. These men returned to communities where the brigade’s veterans and families continued to support one another long after the war ended. They remind us that this new approach to writing unit histories — which examines the interconnected experiences of soldiers, families, and home communities — is essential to more fully understanding the Civil War generation.

Susannah J. Ural, Ph.D. is author of the forthcoming Hood’s Texas Brigade: The Soldiers and Families of the Confederacy’s Most Celebrated Unit with LSU Press. She is professor of history and co-director of the Dale Center for the Study of War & Society at the University of Southern Mississippi.

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Apr 14

The Civil War Battles for Chattanooga

From now until D-Day (June 6th), get 45% off hundreds of military history titles. Learn more here, and remember to visit the blog every Monday of the sale to read guest posts on military history by distinguished LSU Press authors!

In 1889 an uneasy reunion took place in the fields and forest near a fabled creek in North Georgia: a gathering between Union and Confederate veterans who had slaughtered each other in staggering numbers at that spot little more than twenty-five years earlier. Willing to set differences and loathing aside (albeit briefly), they convened for a barbecue and picnic – the first of many meetings at the old Chickamauga battlefield – to work toward establishing America’s first congressionally-preserved memorial battleground. It was the first of many meetings at the old Chickamauga battlefield, which in 1895 would became part of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.

The park, which encompassed several battlefields along the Georgia-Tennessee border, had been the site of some of the most important military turning points of the Civil War. Union and Confederate eyewitnesses to the 1862 and 1863 battles for Chattanooga had seen some of the best and worst of military skill, bravery, and bloodletting: A Yankee route and rebel stampede that resulted in two of the most humiliating retreats for either side in the entire war; heroic charges and forlorn stands, as well as tactical skill and strategic failure by Union and Confederate generals; and perhaps most memorable of all, the terrible carnage that was followed by a series of nearly bloodless victories and defeats. Indeed, the Chickamauga-Chattanooga battles played out almost as though scripted for a Greek tragedy.

The importance of what each side stood to gain and lose at Chattanooga in 1862 and 1863 cannot be overstated. Positioned along the border of the Upper South and Deep South, the city, remote as it was, served as the transportation nexus of the entire Confederacy. Railroads radiated out in four directions, connecting to points in Middle Tennessee, Georgia, the Mississippi Valley, and the Confederate seat of government in Virginia. Whoever controlled Chattanooga would be able to run (or block) supplies and reinforcements to almost any corner of the Confederacy.

Of perhaps even greater importance was the city’s role as a transportation gateway betwixt the nearly insurmountable Appalachian and Cumberland mountain ranges. To the south, beyond Chattanooga’s rugged passageway, lay the Military-Industrial Heartland of the Confederacy, a region that manufactured every material requirement needed for the South to sustain its rebellion. Without the machine shops, armories, arsenals, clothing depots, and gunpowder works in Georgia and eastern Alabama, the South’s long-term military survival was unthinkable.

Neither the Richmond nor the Washington government spared any expenditure of blood or treasure in the struggle to seize and hold Chattanooga. Elements from no fewer than six Union and Confederate armies participated in these campaigns. The 1863 battle of Chickamauga marked the largest clash fought west of the Appalachian Mountains in North America, and the bloodiest 48 hours of the entire war. Chickamauga proved to be the most complete Confederate victory ever won in the war’s western theater. This rebel triumph, however, was almost entirely undone several weeks later, following a series of relatively bloodless Federal victories surrounding Chattanooga. Retreating from the gates of the city that winter, Confederate survivors realized that their hold over the very heart of the western theater was quickly slipping from their grasp.

The consequences of Chattanooga’s loss proved so staggering that one of the Confederate army’s high-ranking commanders, Major General Patrick Cleburne, actually implored his colleagues to pursue a program of incorporating slaves into the South’s military service. The notion was vehemently denounced by nearly everyone who heard it, and rebel forces throughout the western Confederacy continued to trek along on a sixteen-month fighting retreat that only ended with the final surrender of the Army of Tennessee near Durham Station, North Carolina.

A hundred and fifty years later, despite the epic sweep of these events, they rank among the most often overlooked and most widely misunderstood campaigns of the American Civil War. Gateway to the Confederacy brings together a team of historians to offer fresh perspectives on the Chickamauga-Chattanooga campaigns, overturning decades of controversy and misconception that have trailed in the bloody wake of these battles. The book’s ten new essays, from among the most preeminent Civil War scholars working today, provide new understandings of the armies, tactics, common soldiers, politicians and commanders that governed the various battles, marches and sieges waged for Chattanooga, Tennessee and its mountain gateway into the Lower South. Each essay breaks new ground and sheds new light on aspects of these events long in need of reappraisal.

Professor Stephen Innes, the great American historian to whom this book is dedicated, taught his students that the study of history is best pursued through “a colloquy, or conversation with the past.” There is no better place to have that conversation than with the monuments at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. Now under the protection of the National Park Service, this park remains the largest preserved battleground in America at more than 9000 acres, and it is among the most densely monumented battlefields anywhere in the world. Almost all of these monuments were left behind by the Civil War generation, as a way of speaking to us from across time. The monuments tell us who these men were, what they did, and where they left behind slain comrades. Above all, they implore us not to forget the human cost of the war itself.

Evan C. Jones is the co-editor, along with Wiley Sword, of the forthcoming collection Gateway to the Confederacy: New Perspectives on the Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns, 1862-1863 (more information here).

Jun 13

Discovering Ancestor’s Involvement in the Civil War Leads to Renewed Interest in History


Alfred C. Young III

In our modern society of technical gadgets and rapid access to information via the Internet and tablets/smart phones, a question frequently offered is, Why should I be interested in that? It is just history.    From the opposite perspective, historic thinkers have often responded that those who do not study history are duly bound to repeat its mistakes.   Fortunately for advocates of this discipline, many members of the so-called baby boom generation have become interested in family history and genealogy.   For people who once found history to be a boring subject of mere events and dates, there is nothing more stimulating than discovering that their ancestor or ancestors participated in a decisive or popular historic event, movement, or conflict.

Many such family studies reveal an ancestor’s involvement in the American Civil War.   Our nation is currently observing the sesquicentennial anniversary of this epic conflict, and many Americans have found in their research of family history that they have one or more ancestors or relatives who served during this war.   The logical step following this initial discovery is learning more about the experiences of this ancestor while in military service.   Questions quickly arise: Was my ancestor a volunteer or was he drafted?  Was he present in any significant battles or campaigns and, if so, was he in the ranks or detailed somewhere in the rear?   Lastly, was he injured or killed, or if not, did he contract a debilitating disease that affected him for the remainder of his life?

A wealth of information on a particular soldier can often be obtained from the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and/or from state archives.   These government agencies house individual military service records and subsequent pension application documents.  They can be photocopied and mailed directly to any interested person for a specified cost.   These records provide information regarding the enlistment date and location of a soldier, his status at selected periods during the war, and information regarding injuries or death that occurred during battle.

The archival records available at these governmental centers, however, often do not provide the full story of a soldier in the war.  They do not clearly indicate the battles or campaigns in which the enlistee participated or how he fared during those events.   In order to learn more about how a soldier performed during a particular battle, it is often necessary to research and learn the history of his unit.   Most of the men who served in the war were volunteers or draftees assigned to designated state units such the 18th Georgia Infantry Regiment or 4th Virginia Cavalry Regiment.   Most of the units were, in turn, assigned to specific brigades.  The men took immense pride in their individual command and, in short time, the relatives back home knew the battle history of their unit and its brigade.  Books dealing with the participation and accomplishments of specific commands are a welcome addition for those interested in their family’s link to the Civil War.

Alfred C. Young III is and independent scholar living in Pennsylvania. His book, Lee’s Army During the Overland Campaign, was published in May by LSU Press.

May 13

Why Readers Today Should Be Interested in Writings about the Civil War

David C. Keehn

David C. Keehn

As the author of a book about the Knights of the Golden Circle—a Civil War–era secret society—I believe that studying events of that era is important and relevant to what is happening today. The Civil War was the most pivotal point in our nation’s history: Prospects were real that our young democracy would be rendered into two antagonistic countries. Its outcome led to basic decisions as to what freedom means and whether we were merely a collection of states or an integrated nation. By studying the Civil War, we gain the wisdom and courage to address the similar issues we are facing today.

Unfortunately, militant secret societies with nefarious objectives continue to exist. Sinister people can gain foot soldiers by wrapping their controversial programs in mystique and ritual and establishing a hierarchical organization through which they can pass down their orders.  They can influence public opinion by spreading half-truths and creating scapegoats.  Learning about what happened with militant societies like the Knights provides a template on how to defeat them.

For example, in May 1861, KGC General-in-Chief George Bickley bombastically threatened that his Knights would assist in floating the Confederate flag over the capitol dome at Frankfort. The editor of the Frankfort (KY) Commonwealth responded that the Knights would first have to face “every Union man, woman and child in Frankfort county.” George Prentice, the determined editor of the Louisville Journal, published an August 1861 exposé on the Knights’ secret program, fully expecting that to do so would lead to his death.  These courageous responses ultimately led to the demise of the Knights and helped keep the crucial border state of Kentucky in the Union.

The saga of the Knights also tells us something about the need for compromise in a democratic society and how a secret conspiratorial group can undermine mutual trust and understanding. Through half-truths and propaganda, the Knights (in conjunction with the fire-eaters) convinced many Southerners that Lincoln and the “Black Republicans” intended to immediately eliminate slavery leading to insurrection and mayhem, thus unleashing the powerful primordial instinct of self-preservation. On the other hand, Lincoln and his Republicans refused to consider compromise (such as the one proposed by Kentucky’s Senator John Crittenden) because it would allow filibustering groups like the Knights to pursue establishment of a slave empire in the southern hemisphere. The Knights’ program of intimidation and innuendo caused principled leaders in the North and the South to simply stop talking to each other. The end result was an horrendous protracted war in which more than 620,000 brave Americans died.

Finally, studying the Civil War provides important perspectives on what freedom means in our nation. During the war, our country was divided, with brother fighting against brother. This led to restraints being imposed by both sides on our cherished freedoms, including the suspension of habeas corpus and the suppression of opposition newspapers. Were such restraints justified in the face of internal threats and sabotage?  We continue to ponder such questions today.

Jun 12

Guest blogger: Benjamin G. Cloyd

This past Memorial Day, as a part of marking the Civil War sesquicentennial, I had the privilege of giving the keynote address at the yearly ceremony held at Andersonville National Cemetery.  I made it clear to the park officials at Andersonville that I would use the occasion to respectfully, but honestly, address the enduring problem of how Civil War memory has always been contested and controversial, particularly in the case of Civil War prisons.  The rangers warned me that in straying from the usual pattern of patriotic affirmation, I could expect a strong reaction to my speech.  They were right.

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Jun 12

Guest blogger: Daniel L. Fountain

During my college’s most recent commencement I found myself completely distracted from the usually entertaining and joyous proceedings.  As I sat in the outdoor amphitheatre my eyes and attention were drawn to a small group of earnest looking people seated in front of me.  My attention turned completely to them as they were joined by an ever-increasing number of security personnel and paramedics.  Throughout the growing commotion, a well-known, influential, and very impressive alumna was addressing our graduates in what I’m sure was a thoughtful and engaging speech.  I heard none of it.  There was an elephant in the room that prevented me from giving her a moment of my attention; someone was in distress and I was concerned about her wellbeing.  This moment made me think about what it might have been like for enslaved men and women to listen to a nineteenth century Christian minister in the South.    Imagine what your response would have been to a sermon such as this.

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May 12

Guest blogger: Brian D. McKnight

When the World is Really Out to Get You, Champ Ferguson and the Civil War

My old buddy Bill Carter used to say, “You’re not paranoid if someone really is out to get you.”  Bill used to a say a lot of things so this one didn’t strike me as particularly important until I started writing Confederate Outlaw.  To be fair, Bill was not a big Civil War fan but he did have a keen historical eye that constantly focused on history’s undercurrents.  Bill was also no diplomat so when he got to the pith and marrow of an issue, he usually did so with the deftness of a chainsaw.

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May 12

Guest blogger: Aaron Astor

What if our whole geographic understanding of the Civil War is wrong? What if, instead of viewing the Civil War as a grand, ideological struggle between the wage labor-based, urban, industrial North and the slave plantation-based, staple-crop producing South, we looked at the war as a battle of thirds: North, Middle and South.  Yes, there was, in fact, an expanding industrial capitalist North stretching from New England to Chicago, perpetually seeking financial capital, immigrant labor, technological efficiency, natural resources, and national and global markets to exploit.  And, yes, there was a vast plantation belt beginning among the tobacco fields of the Virginia Tidewater, traversing the indigo and rice swamps of the South Carolina Low Country, and then enveloping the Deep South cotton belt – all worked by millions of African American slaves.

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May 12

Guest blogger: Paul C. Anderson

I’m going to post a lie.  A couple of them, actually.

At least I think they’re lies. They’re not mine. (The Liar’s Golden Rule: make the fib bigger than yourself. Lying has a remarkably selfless quality when you do it that way.) The first is Thomas Jefferson’s. “The passage of the Potomac through the Blue Ridge,” Jefferson wrote in his famous description of Harpers Ferry in Notes on the State of Virginia, “is perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in nature. . . . This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.” Turns out Jefferson had never been there. According to a contemporary who claimed to know, Jefferson’s copped his description “from the representations of others.”

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