This year I was once again asked to select some of my favorite Civil War titles from 2015 for The Civil War Monitor magazine. It’s always difficult to narrow it down, but I gave it a shot. You will also find lists from Elizabeth Varon, Brian Matthew Jordan, Ethan Rafuse and Andrew Wagenhoffer, whose selections could just as easily have landed on my list. As you can see it was a good year for Harvard University Press.
Top Pick: Gregory P. Downs’ After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War (Harvard University Press) challenges the notion that Confederates were prepared to acquiesce after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House in April 1865. Indeed, he argues that a state of belligerency continued to define life in the South until 1871. Downs shows how federal military occupation remained a potent force during much of this period as the government attempted to protect the freedom and civil rights of the African-American population. Clearly influenced by America’s occupation experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, Downs argues convincingly that force was a crucial component of democracy’s short-lived life in the postwar South. This book is a must read.
Honorable Mention: In Beyond Freedom’s Reach: A Kidnapping in the Twilight of Slavery (Harvard University Press), Adam Rothman tells the story of Rose Herera, a Louisiana slave whose young children were taken from her when their owners’ family fled to Havana in the wake of the Union occupation of New Orleans in 1862. rose, who considered her children to have been kidnapped, struggled to get them back, her cause eventually being taken up by the U.S. Senate and State Department. It’s a powerful tale, one that explores myriad issues, including the end of slavery in the U.S. and the scope of African-American civil rights. This is a wonderful book.
Looking Forward To: In the wake of the shootings at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston last summer, Americans across the country are rethinking how the Civil War should be remembered in their communities. I have a feeling that Thomas J. Brown’s Civil War Canon: Sites of Confederate Memory in South Carolina (University of North Carolina Press) will get us closer to appreciating these places’ evolving meaning with some much needed historical context. Coming net year is Manisha Sinha’s The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition ((Yale University Press), a book that looks to case a wide net in its handling of the abolition movement by expanding its scope beyond the typical short list of white reformers to include black and white men and women, free and enslaved, who struggled to find common ground on the question of slavery’s future. The book also places America’s abolitionist struggles within a broader transnational context.
Feel free to share your favorite Civil War book of 2015 or anything else that you would like to give a nod to in the comments section below. And if you have not done so already, do yourself a favor and subscribe to The Civil War Monitor magazine.