Tag Archives: George Rable

Recently Published Civil War Books in 2002

Al Mackey has been posting old CSPAN videos of various Civil War events some of which are quite interesting. I perused the CSPAN archives and came across this session from one of Gary Gallagher’s UVA conferences on the Fredericksburg Campaign from 2002. The session features Gary along with Bob Krick, George Rable, R.E.L. Krick, Bill Bergen and Peter Carmichael.

The panelists discuss books that had then had just recently been published, including David Blight’s Race and Reunion, which was about a year old at the time. There is a wonderful exchange between Bob Krick and Peter about Paul Anderson’s study of Turner Ashby, which is a wonderful book. Anyway, it’s kind of interesting to see how the field has evolved in the past ten years.

 

Top Civil War Books for 2011 at The Civil War Monitor

Winter 2011

Yesterday I received the latest issue of The Civil War Monitor magazine.  I’ve only had a chance to skim through it, but the layout and content look great.  This issue includes essays by Glenn LaFantasie, James Marten, Steven Newton, and a pictorial piece by Ronald Coddington.  I recently purchased a 2-year subscription and I encourage you to do so as well.

This issue also includes selections for top books of 2011 by five historians including yours truly.  I am joined by George Rable, Robert K. Krick, Gerald Prokopowicz, and Ethan Rafuse.  What follows are my selections:

Click to continue

 

George Rable on “The Civil War As a Political Crisis”

Few Civil War historians have been more prolific over as large a segment of the historical landscape than George Rable of the University of Alabama.  I’ve read most of his books and I always find that my understanding of the period deepens as a result.  Rable is one of those historians that makes you smarter after having read one of his books.  My two favorites are The Confederate Republic: A Revolution Against Politics (Civil War America) and Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!, which in my mind is one of the most innovative Civil War campaign studies ever written.  His most recent book is, God’s Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era), which I am thoroughly enjoying.

If you are not familiar with Rable’s scholarship this is the perfect place to start.

 

The Sesquicentennial is Alive and Well in Fredericksburg

Congratulations to John Hennessy of the NPS and Sara Poore of the Fredericksburg Area Museum for organizing a wonderful event yesterday that included a rare opportunity to tour the grounds of Brompton as well as listen to historians George Rable and William Freehling.  More than 600 people attended the event at the historic Fredericksburg Baptist Church, which is quite an accomplishment given the beautiful weather as well as the subject.  Read John’s thoughts about the day’s proceedings at Fredericksburg Remembered.  John and Sara are two of the hardest working public historians in the business and I hope that the people of Fredericksburg appreciate their commitment to organizing programs for the local community that are both entertaining and educational.

One of the more interesting moments took place during the Q&A following John’s talk on the secession debate that took place in Fredericksburg.  A member of the audience suggested that the lack of slave rebellions during the antebellum period suggested to him that slaves may have, in fact been content.  No surprise that John handled the question directly and with the sensitivity that it deserved.  What surprised me, however, was that after John finished with his response a large percentage of the audience clapped.  The response suggests that these questions are no longer appropriate to ask.  Yes, we can have serious discussions about the complexity of the master-slave relationship, but thankfully we seem to have moved beyond being able to suggest that people were content being slaves.

Thanks to everyone involved for organizing this event.

 

Discovering Reconstruction

reconstruction_congressI am doing quite a bit of reading over this holiday break. One of the books I am making my way through is Capitol Men by Philip Dray. The book tells the story of the principal black leaders in Congress during Reconstruction. It’s well written and does a thorough job of explaining both the backgrounds of the individual subjects as well as the tumultuous times in which they lived. Actually, I’ve been reading quite a bit about Reconstruction and the postwar years generally, and there is a great deal to choose from. One can’t help but be impressed by the selection of books on Reconstruction that have been published over the past few years. [Click here for Ed Blum's overview of this literature.] Just a few years ago you would be lucky to find the abridged version of Eric Foner’s magisterial history of the period. But the recognition of a spike in interest in the subject also begs for explanation. This influx of new books couldn’t have come at a better time given the election of our first black president. That said, this welcome change probably has little to do with the recent election.

I don’t claim to be an expert on the historiography of Reconstruction. I’ve read a bit of U.B. Phillips, and others who studied under William Dunning at Columbia; Dunning reinforced a rather narrow view of Reconstruction as a failure and one that reinforced white supremacy at the height of Jim Crow in the early twentieth century. It’s important to keep in mind that although this school of thought was challenged by scholars beginning in the early 1950s, and even more so in the 1970s, these debates were largely confined to the academy. To the extent that Americans know anything about Reconstruction, my guess is that they learned it from movies such as Gone With the Wind as well as other popular cultural forms. Scores of books and journal articles slowly chipped away at an interpretation, which viewed Reconstruction as an example of unjustified intrusion by the federal government, corruption in state legislatures at the hands of newly-freed slaves, and a dismissal of the black perspective generally. However, it was not until the 1988 publication of Eric Foner’s Reconstruction (and shortly thereafter, the abridged edition) that a broader audience was offered a readable account that synthesized much of this scholarship. In addition to winning a number of academic awards it also received a great deal of attention in the pages of popular magazines and newspapers. It’s hard to say how much of an effect Foner’s book had on our popular perceptions of the Civil War and Reconstruction – probably little to none, but it is difficult to deny his importance to this new crop of recent historical studies. Most of these authors acknowledge Foner’s scholarship as invaluable in their own quest to better understand the period.

But if Foner’s work constitutes perhaps the best example of a scholarly reconfiguration of our understanding of Reconstruction than it is the war in Iraq, which has introduced that scholarship to a broader demographic. It should come as no surprise that a resurgence of interest came at a time when the public discourse was centered around the reconstruction of Iraq. Historians such as Ed Ayers chimed in with op-ed pieces, which highlighted the challenges of such a venture and reminded the American people of an earlier attempt at trying to reconstruct a deeply-entrenched political, social, and racial hierarchy. Following a list of lessons that one should take away from that “First Occupation”, Ayers concludes with the following:

A hard paradox lies at the heart of all reconstructions: the reconstructor must transform a society in its own image without appearing selfish or self-righteous. An effort at reconstruction, our nation’s history shows us, must be implemented not only with determination and might, but also with humility and self-knowledge — and with an understanding of the experience of defeat that attention to Southern history can give us. Otherwise, America risks appearing as the thing it least wants to be, a carpetbagger nation.

It is not a stretch to imagine scholars and writers of various sorts following up their reading of these editorials by taking a more in-depth look at what went wrong with the federal government’s earlier attempt at Reconstruction, even as our public officials struggled to explain to the America people why there was so little progress in Iraq. For those of us who had an understanding of the difficulties involved in reconstructing a society, the president’s declarations, which reduced the challenge down to the conviction that all people desire freedom seemed grossly naive and even reckless.

The street fighting in Baghdad and Falujah echo those that took place in New Orleans, Memphis, and elsewhere, and while Americans were shocked at the indiscriminate killing among religious sects the postwar terrorism against newly-freed slaves rivals anything to be found in the Middle East. Recent studies of postwar violence include Stephen Budiansky’s The Bloody Shirt: Terror After the Civil War (2007) and Nicholas Lemann, Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War (2007). Two books, one by Charles Lane and the other by LeeAnna Keith, explore the Colfax Massacre of 1873. This does not include the numerous scholarly of Reconstruction violence against African Americans, and even newer editions of older studies, that have been published over the past few years. Collectively, these books can be seen as a vindication of Ayers’s warning that a nation engaged in so difficult a project as the reconstruction of another country ought to proceed with “humility and self-knowledge.”

If there is a silver lining in this resurgence of interest it is that a much larger audience now has access to books that present Reconstruction in a much more sophisticated light, one that takes seriously the steps that Americans took to extend and protect basic civil rights regardless of race. It not only involves moving beyond the overly simplistic language of scalawags and carpetbaggers, but involves giving voice to black and white leaders who worked to extend the franchise and other political rights to former slaves and even the vast majority of poor whites who had been excluded from the polity. Recent book include Garrett Epps’s Democracy Reborn: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Fight for Equal Rights in Post-Civil War America (2007), Eric Foner’s Forever Free, as well as Dray’s Capitol Men. American Experience’s recent documentary on Reconstruction also reflects this newfound interest.

Finally, this could not have come at a better moment in the history of this country. With our first black president set to take office in a matter of weeks it is comforting to know that a solid body of historical scholarship is available for those who are interested in placing Barack Obama’s candidacy within a broader historical context. It is important for us to understand the struggle that led to this moment in our history, and in doing so, we should acknowledge that while it is a momentous step in a new direction, it is but one step on a long road that involves appreciating the extent to which race has shaped this nation’s political, social, and economic hierarchy. We should ask the tough questions related to the timing of Obama’s candidacy, why it didn’t or perhaps couldn’t happen sooner, and why so few African Americans have served in the federal government since Reconstruction. We should ask these questions not with the goal of self-hatred, but because we are all part of this larger national narrative, and because Democracy is a constant struggle. I am under no illusion that large numbers of Americans will flock to the bookstores to purchase these recent titles; however, the fact of their availability suggests to me that our society is in a much better place to ask some of these tough questions that at any time before.