A Must Read

I don’t usually advertise new books like this, but I wanted to give all of you a heads up regarding Stephanie McCurry’s Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South, which is shaping up to be one of the most thought provoking books of the year.  Over the past few years I’ve read a couple of chapters in edited collections and journals, but it is nice to be able to read this study of Confederate politics in its complete form.  I am about half-way through it, but you will be hearing quite a bit about it in the near future.  Here is the book description:

The story of the Confederate States of America, the proslavery, antidemocratic nation created by white Southern slaveholders to protect their property, has been told many times in heroic and martial narratives. Now, however, Stephanie McCurry tells a very different tale of the Confederate experience. When the grandiosity of Southerners’ national ambitions met the harsh realities of wartime crises, unintended consequences ensued. Although Southern statesmen and generals had built the most powerful slave regime in the Western world, they had excluded the majority of their own people—white women and slaves—and thereby sowed the seeds of their demise.

Wartime scarcity of food, labor, and soldiers tested the Confederate vision at every point and created domestic crises to match those found on the battlefields. Women and slaves became critical political actors as they contested government enlistment and tax and welfare policies, and struggled for their freedom. The attempt to repress a majority of its own population backfired on the Confederate States of America as the disenfranchised demanded to be counted and considered in the great struggle over slavery, emancipation, democracy, and nationhood. That Confederate struggle played out in a highly charged international arena.

The political project of the Confederacy was tried by its own people and failed. The government was forced to become accountable to women and slaves, provoking an astounding transformation of the slaveholders’ state. Confederate Reckoning is the startling story of this epic political battle in which women and slaves helped to decide the fate of the Confederacy and the outcome of the Civil War.

CraterThanks for reading this post. Scroll down, leave a comment and join the conversation if you are so inclined. Follow me on Twitter and join the Civil War Memory Facebook group for continuous updates and additional links to newsworthy items from around the interwebs. Stay up to date by subscribing to this blog’s feed. You can also check out my recently published book, Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder.

4 comments… add one

  • Lane Kiffen May 20, 2010

    Thanks Kevin I don’t know if there is another book that has tackled this subject in this manner.

  • Austin Idol May 20, 2010

    I don’t usually like the whole “but the United States had slavery longer” mentality. However, since the 19th Amendment wasn’t until 1920 and the ERA never did pass, I really don’t think that the CSA can be singled out on the women’s rights issue.

    • Kevin Levin May 20, 2010

      Austin,

      Thanks for the comment. The book addresses the way in which the war challenged traditional gender roles in the Confederate states, rather than attempting to place blame or anything along those lines

    • Margaret D. Blough May 20, 2010

      One of the great fears of pro-slavery forces was that if the highly patriarchal master-slave relationship was threatened or, worse, overturned, it would undermine other patriarchal (white) male dominant relationships in that society such as husband/wife and father/child (particularly paternal control over daughters). On this point they were right, Ironically, it had that effect regardless of positions re: slavery. The feminist/suffragette movement came directly out of the abolition movement. Despite the lack of civil rights for women (a few states only passed Married Women’s Property Acts in the 20th century, and my late mother did not have a constitutionally protected right to vote until about a year after she was born on June 4,1919, coincidentally the date on which Congress proposed the XIX Amendment to the states for ratification, which occurred on August 18, 1920), women formed the footsoldiers, the petition distributers, and even stood forward as speakers in the abolition movement. Most male abolitionists, with a few notable exceptions, had a hard enough time with the idea of black men in the top leadership (even among the immediatist abolitionists). The 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention in London relegated women delegates from the US to the galleries purely as observers. That act led directly to the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, now seen as the birthplace of the modern women’s rights movement. Two of the rejected London delegates, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, were among the leading organizers of Seneca Falls. Frederick Douglass, who attended and persuaded the convention to call for women’s suffrage said, when the Convention’s platform brought derision and attacks on it and the delegates, wrote in his paper, “The North Star”: “A discussion of the rights of animals would be regarded with far more complacency by many of what are called the wise and the good of our land, than would be a discussion of the rights of woman.”

      IMHO, because the impact on society as a whole was far more profound and devastating in the rebel states, (because that was where the bulk of the fighting was, because the extremely high percentage of white males of military age who were mobilized left many white women on their own for the first time, and the disintegration and end of slavery), you see in a more compressed and heightened form forces that were more incremental in states that felt the impact of the war less directly.

Leave a Comment