I just finished Jonathan Sarris’s new book A Separate Civil War: Communities in Conflict in the Mountain South (University of Virginia Press, 2006). At just under 200 pages the book offers an incredibly concise analytical comparison between Lumpkin and Fannin counties in northwest Georgia. Sarris compares the evolution of these two counties in the decades before the Civil War and into the postwar years. Along the way he challenges long-standing assumptions about the experience of war in the mountain south. Sarris places a great deal of emphasis on the development of these two counties before the war as a determining factor on how residents viewed slavery, secession, nationalism, desertion, and defeat. The evolution of the Lumpkin and Fannnin counties, along with ongoing local dynamics, provides the prism through which the war is interpreted. If you’ve read G. Ward Hubbs’s Guarding Greensboro: A Confederate Company in the Making of a Southern Community (University of Georgia Press, 2003) you may want to read Sarris. While Hubbs focuses more on the men in the ranks both studies illustrate how specific localities in the South were shaped by the demands and uncertainties of war. I was particularly interested in the final chapter on memory. Sarris explains why many continue to generalize about the mountain South as a bastion of unionism throughout the war. Confederates and unionists competed with one another for control of how the war was to be remembered and this brought about some unusual bedfellows. Most interesting was the decision of Confederate veterans to welcome Union veterans to their reunions rather than fellow residents who for one reason or another chose to remain loyal to the United States or joined their ranks by crossing into east Tennessee. I highly recommend Sarris’s book as I learned a great deal.
I am currently reading Douglas L. Wilson’s Lincoln’s Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words (Knopf, 2006) who is the author of Honor’s Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln which is in my mind the best recent study of the man. Unlike Gabor Boritt’s recent study of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address Wilson concentrates on how he wrote and developed his ideas. In doing so we get a peek into the process by which Lincoln shaped his ideas. Wilson begins with Lincoln’s farewell speech in Springfield and in subsequent chapters tackles the First Inaugural and the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which I just finished. With the flood of recent studies by Allen Guelzo, Gabor Boritt, Harold Holzer, and Ronald White I was worried that Wilson’s thunder would be drowned out. Fortunately you will find that Wilson creates a nice niche for himself in sticking to how Lincoln utilized editorial advice and how he crafted his speeches. Most recent studies comment on the precision of Lincoln’s thinking, but by taking the reader through various drafts Wilson is able to show the reader how he utilized language to achieve his political goals.