A Reconstruction Reading List

Parsons KlanAsk for a book recommendation on Reconstruction and you are likely to get Eric Foner’s masterful synthesis, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877.

It’s still a great place to start, but there has been a good deal published about the period over the past few years and much of it takes us beyond the traditional time-line and spatial framework outlined in Foner.

What follows is a list of books that have pushed me in various ways to think anew about the standard list of events during the postwar period and a host of new ones. Of course, this is not intended as an exhaustive list.

Feel free to add suggestions in the comments section below.

Adam Arenson and Andrew R. Graybill, Civil War Wests: Testing the Limits of the United States (University of California Press, 2015).

Stephen V. Ash, A Massacre in Memphis: The Race Riot That Shook the Nation One Year After the Civil War (Hill & Wang, 2014).

Paul A. Cimbala and Randall Miller eds.,The Great Task Remaining Before Us: Reconstruction as America’s Continuing Civil War (Fordham University Press, 2010).

Gregory Downs, After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War (Harvard University Press, 2014).

Gregory Downs and Kate Masur, eds.,The World the Civil War Made (University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

Philip Dray, Capitol Men: The Epic Story of Reconstruction Through the Lives of the First Black Congressmen (Houghton Mifflin, 2008).

Douglas R. Egerton, The Wars of Reconstruction: The Brief, Violent History of America’s Most Progressive Era (Bloomsbury Press, 2014).

Carole Emberton, Beyond Redemption: Race, Violence, and the American South after the Civil War (University of Chicago, 2014).

Elaine F. Parsons, Ku-Klux: The Birth of the Klan during Reconstruction [(University of North Carolina Press, 2016) Note: just started].

Hannah Rosen, Terror in the Heart of Freedom: Citizenship, Sexual Violence, and the Meaning of Race in the Postemancipation South (University of North Carolina Press, 2009).

Michael A. Ross, The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era (Oxford University Press, 2015).

Brooks Simpson, The Reconstruction Presidents (University of Kansas Press, 1998).

Mark Summers, The Ordeal of the Reunion: A New History of Reconstruction (University of North Carolina Press, 2014).

16 comments… add one
  • James Harrigan Feb 3, 2016

    I had the pleasure of hearing Foner speak about his new book about the underground railroad last summer. During the Q&A, after telling him how much his “Reconstruction” means to me, I asked him about more recent scholarly books on the period that add to or modify the conclusions from his book. He said that there wasn’t a single survey monograph since his, but he did recommend Downs’ After Appomattox, which is on my to-read list.

  • Richard Feb 3, 2016

    Thanks! I had just started to look for some reading for this era, so this list is very timely.

  • Nick Sacco Feb 3, 2016

    A few good titles I’ve recently read:

    – Edward J. Blum, Reforging the White Republic: Race, Religion, and American Nationalism, 1865-1898

    – Bruce Baker and Brian Kelly, eds., After Slavery: Race, Labor, and Citizenship in the Reconstruction South

    – William A. Link et al., eds., Creating Citizenship in the Nineteenth-Century South

    • Kevin Levin Feb 3, 2016

      I am familiar with the Blum book, but not the other two titles. Thanks.

  • Sean Michael Chick Feb 3, 2016

    Coincidentally, I just ordered Mark Summers’ “The Ordeal of the Reunion.” He is one of the best out there, a die hard about sticking to the sources.

    One of the best I have read on this subject is “New Orleans After the Civil War” by Nystrom. He digs into the specific circumstances of Reconstruction here and the personalities involved. The portrait is tense, complex, and heart breaking.

    Another one is “An Absolute Massacre: The New Orleans Race Riot of July 30, 1866” by Hollandsworth. It is more dry than Nystrom’s work, but can’t be beat for detailed research.

  • Bob Huddleston Feb 3, 2016

    Don’t forget _Huckleberry Finn_. Shelley Fisher Fishkin spends many pages in _Lighting Out For the Territory: Reflections on Mark Twain and American Culture_ talking about how the ending of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer’s treatment of Jim is a parable for the abandonment of African-Americans in the 1880s.

  • Pat Young Feb 3, 2016

    A Massacre in Memphis was fascinating. The impact of what was often only a few dozen “rioters” on the success of Reconstruction in an important Southern city was not what I expected. I appreciated Ash’s ability to tease out the real story from the myth of the Irish monolith.

  • Paul Taylor Feb 4, 2016

    I am currently reading Michael W. Fitzgerald’s “The Union League Movement in the Deep South: Politics and Agricultural Change during Reconstruction.” LSU Press, 1989.

  • TFSmith Feb 4, 2016

    Second the placement of Hannah Rosen’s book; excellent.

    I’d suggest something on the Colfax Massacre, either Keith’s The Colfax Massacre or Lane’s The Day Freedom Died; both have their strengths, but Lane probably pulls the national scene together than Keith. Keith has some great character study, however.

  • Noma Feb 13, 2016

    Where can I find a really good Timeline for Reconstruction? In print or online is fine. Thanks!

  • Pat Young Mar 9, 2016

    Some of us are putting together a comprehensive timeline of Reconstruction. We started last week. Hopefully we will have it done in a a few months. Take a look and let us know what should be included:
    https://www.hstry.co/timelines/the-reconstruction-era-eddc8926-0047-407c-a25f-bccd0f941ca9

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