Sunday, November 18, 2012

Just Finished Reading

I have said it on this forum a number of times in the past, but Reconstruction is without a doubt the most important yet under-taught period in America's history. I would argue that understanding the years that immediately followed the Civil War are as significant as understanding the four years of war.

How our nation attempted to "bind up its wounds" and become one country again is certainly not a pretty story. As one might image, there was much resistance on the part of the former slave states, and much spite delivered by the Northern victors. Both legal and extralegal measures were taken to thwart the important constitutional changes that challenged former racial distinctions in both those slave states that had remained loyal (border states) and those that had seceded. The road to reunion was filled with speed bumps and pot holes; both sides guilty of transgressions and vengeance.

The set of 11 essays contained in The Great Task Remaining Before Us: Reconstruction as America's Continuing Civil War (edited by Paul A. Cimbala and Randall M. Miller) go a long way toward helping us better understand this confusing and contentious era. In my opinion, the editors did an excellent job of selecting the articles it contains.

I was especially happy to see that two of the essays discussed the unique role Kentucky played in these years. "'I Wanted a Gun': Black Soldiers and White Violence in Kentucky" by Aaron Astor, and "'The Rebel Spirit in Kentucky': The Politics of Readjustment in a Border State, 1865-1868" by Anne E. Marshall, both provide new scholarship about a state that is not commonly thought to have been deeply affected by Reconstruction. Kentucky's unique defiance - holding on to slavery - past the war's end, made sure that it would experience Reconstruction differently than its sister border states of Maryland and Missouri.

Other essays cover a diverse set of topics such as individual's stories (Wade Hampton), gender studies (antislavery women), class discussions (the poor whites of Georgia), race examinations (free people of Color in New Orleans), and even sectional studies (Northern Republicans) in Reconstruction. In fact, this is probably the best set of essays on a wide variety of subjects that have focused on the post-war period that I have ever encountered.

I highly recommend this book to anyone seeking to better comprehend the diverse issues that have largely been overlooked in Reconstruction scholarship. A lot can be learned here. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give The Great Task Remaining Before Us a 4.75.

1 comment:

  1. Will add book to my reading list based on your review.