Sunday, March 15, 2009

Just finished reading: Bitter Fruits of Bondage: The Demise of Slavery and the Collapse of the Confederacy, 1861-1865 by Armstead L. Robinson. Univ. of Virginia Press, 2005.

The late Professor Robinson's central thesis of this work is that the Confederacy was in point of fact fighting a three front war; three fronts that were significantly interconnected. Front number one was the armed Union invasion of the South (East and West), front number two was coping with a slave freedom struggle, and front number three was an internal yeoman revolt. These three issues were more than the manpower short Confederates could effectively handle, and thus defeat came relatively quickly (as compared to a longer Revolutionary War). Robinson sums up this thesis in the work well when he states, "The interests of the slave holding minority were in direct opposition to the interests of the slaves and to the interests of the majority of free citizens of the South, the white nonslaveholding yeomanry."

Robinson backs up his contention with an impressive amount of primary source research. His work in the National Archives must have involved many long hours. But he quotes not only from Confederate political documents and proclamations...he gets at the heart of the matter by listening to the words of the common Confederate soldiers in the field and their families on the home front. In these letters, diaries, and journals Robinson hears over and over again that this is a "rich man's war and a poor man's fight." Confederate conscription policy, starting in April of 1862, forced many Southerners into service that had no real interest in fighting to preserve what they saw as a "cotton oligarchy." Robinson believes that these unwilling recruits were the main reason stunning military defeats occurred for the Confederates at Vicksburg and at Missionary Ridge.

One of the most interesting elements of the book is Robinson's assertion that the slaves were active catalysts in their eventual emancipation. Many times left on plantations with only a mistress to oversee work, slaves ran away to Union lines, slowed their work pace, and broke tools and farm implements to help thwart the Confederate's ability to produce food crops and resist Union invasion. Slaves also provided Union armies with valuable military information and served as guides on numerous uncharted southern roads. And most importantly, when given the opportunity to fight as soldiers, they proved to be not only an effective boost to Union military manpower, but also a drain on the Confederacy's ability to continue to wage war.

This book is a must read for those interested in why the Confederacy lost the war. Understanding the contradictions of a slave holding nation seeking its brand of freedom is key to understanding our nation's most defining moment.

No comments:

Post a Comment