Road to Disunion Released

Freehling Volume two of William Freehling’s Road to Disunion (Secessionists Triumphant) is now available.  Freehling is one of the most respected and talented historians of the past few decades and his writing combines an analytical flair with a readable narrative and a commitment to highlighting contingency and the many personalities that dominate the historical landscape of the time.  Freehling is one of the few historians that I like to think makes you smarter; in other words his arguments are incredibly sophisticated, but he manages to pack it in through vivid stories.  Don’t worry if you haven’t read the first volume since Freehling sums up his arguments in the first few chapters.  Professor Freehling has been living here in Charlottesville for about five years and is currently a senior fellow at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.  I’ve heard him lecture numerous times and convinced him to visit my Civil War class to discuss one of his articles a few years back.  Whenever I see him he asks when he will be asked to make a return appearance. 

I look forward to getting my book signed this week during the Virginia Festival of the Book.  Congratulations Bill!

8 comments… add one
  • Kevin Levin Mar 23, 2007 @ 6:43

    I bought my copy at the University of Virginia bookstore so I just assumed it was available everywhere. I guess given that Freehling gave a talk there this past week that they were able to get some books in early.

  • Dan Chambers Mar 22, 2007 @ 21:26

    Avaiable? Maybe to order online.

    When will this book be in bookstores for those of us with giftcards itching to be used?

  • Kevin Levin Mar 20, 2007 @ 6:53

    Hi Craig, — Great question. I think it is important to keep in mind that Blight is looking at the broad picture and focused on the eventual ascendency of a national narrative that minimized if not ignored the “emancipationist legacy” of the war. An important part of that story is clearly the steps that veterans and other commentators took to emphasize shared values between the two regions.

    Historians have clearly taken the story a step further since the publication of Race and Reunion. Two essential readings are William Blair’s _Cities of the Dead_ (UNC Press) and John Neff’s _Honoring the Civil War Dead_ (University of Kansas Press). Both studies suggest that there was a great deal of sectional tension surrounding the commemoration of their respective dead. I tend to characterize these studies as important supplements to Blight rather than direct challenges.

    My own research on Mahone and the Crater suggests another area that tends to be ignored and that is the extent of the conflict within the South. We constantly make the mistake of assuming a unified Lost Cause front, when in fact, there was a great deal of disagreement surrounding the conditions under which one could claim ownership of the Confederate past. William Mahone and the Readjusters is a perfect example. I believe Blight mentions Mahone and the Readjusters in just one sentence.

  • Craig A. Warren Mar 19, 2007 @ 23:46


    Like you, I have a well-worn copy of *Race and Reunion*. But what do you make of claims that Blight exaggerates the degree to which veterans North and South were willing to reconcile?

  • Kevin Levin Mar 19, 2007 @ 21:25

    Hi Andrew, — I probably made a mistake starting the Freehling book because I can’t put it down.

    As for the Blight book, if you look closely it is the book I am reading in the photograph at the top of the blog. Simply put, it is the place to start when reading about Civil War memory. Most of what has been published since has been in one way or another a response to Blight. I’ve blogged about Blight from the beginning.

  • Andrew Duppstadt Mar 19, 2007 @ 21:00

    Glad to see this book out. I pre-ordered my copy from History Book Club and can’t wait to receive it!

    BTW, what are your thoughts on David Blight’s “Race and Reunion”? A friend and colleague says its the best book she’s read since grad school and loaned me her copy. Just thought I’d get your take (and maybe you’ve blogged about it before). Thanks.

    Andrew Duppstadt
    Assistant Curator of Education
    NC Historic Sites

  • Kevin Levin Mar 18, 2007 @ 9:59

    Mr. Sebesta, — Thanks for taking the time to comment, but I have to admit that I am not clear on what your are referencing as an “Afro-Confederate soldier fantasy.” If you are suggesting that Freehling buys that argument that large numbers of blacks served officially in the Confederate army than I would suggest you go back and read The South v. The South more carefully.

    It’s a strange comment because Freehling spends so much time arguing that the large numbers of fugitives during the war damaged the Confederate war effort and strengthened the North’s once Lincoln was able to maneuver into a position where he could take advantage of their potential service. On p. 92 Freehling states the following:

    “According to a currently politically correct theory, blacks hated slavery and seized all chances to undermine their masters. Most blacks indeed did flee from masters when Union armies appeared in their neighborhood. Body servants, the source of most black riflemen early in the war, did become less prevalent in Confederate camps after the war turned harder. Whites did have to force most Confederate blacks to work. But a small, devoted fraction of slaves long served their masters inside the Confederate army. Halleck’s soldiers hardly cheered because only occasional black Confederates pulled triggers. Lincoln’s invaders suffered much anxiety because thousands of slaves built Confederate forts and earthworks. Anxious privates found much relief when the Confederacy’s indispensible black workers sprinted for Union lines.”

    I could go on but perhaps it is best to cite exactly where you believe Freehling falls into this trap. Part of the overall problem is that we simply do not have enough people researching thsi topic. Generalizations about the relationship between Confederates and their black servants/slaves abound. We need to better understand the complexity and evolution of that relationship as the war progressed. Unless you can demonstrate otherwise I think I am safe in concluding that Freehling does not fall into this trap.

    Thanks again for commenting.

  • Edward H. Sebesta Mar 18, 2007 @ 9:39

    I read the first volume. Unfortunately since then Freehling has suffered from the Genovese syndrome. I will probably read it, but with caution. Freehling advocates the Afro-Confederate soldier fantasy in his book with an argument out of the segregationist south.

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