A revisionist examination of the Confederate experience, as much
concerned with historians and their methods as with history itself.
"Any historian who argues that the Confederate people demonstrated
robust devotion to their slave-based republic, possessed feelings
of national community, and sacrificed more than any other segment
of white society in US history," frets Gallagher (American
History/Penn. State Univ.), "runs the risk of being labeled a
neo-Confederate." He's right to worry. Making precisely that
argument, his history of Confederate military and civilian
experience veers dangerously close to hagiography of an entire
culture. Challenging the current historical consensus that lack of
will, absence of national unity, and flawed military strategy
doomed the Confederacy, Gallagher presents contemporary letters,
diaries, and newspaper accounts that rhapsodize about the true grit
of rebel soldiers and civilians. To his credit, he resists the urge
to backtrack from Appomattox when explaining military failure (as
he accuses other historians of doing) and instead puts the
Confederate war effort in a larger historical framework - namely
the successful rebellion of the American Revolution. He poses a
number of intriguing questions for fellow historians, suggesting
most notably that scholars ask not why an uprising viewed as "a
rich man's war but a poor man's fight" failed, but why so many
non-slaveholders fought for so long. But his parade of testimonials
to the nobility of the Lost Cause, unchallenged by critical
questioning, sticks in the craw. Soldiers' letters, reenlistment
figures, and editorials - which all suggest high morale when taken
at face value by Gallagher - could easily be viewed as propaganda.
At least their bombastic language enlivens an otherwise stiffly
formal academic text. A work of more interest to historians than
general readers, and more important for the questions it raises
than any it answers. (Kirkus Reviews)
If one is to believe contemporary historians, the South never had a
chance. Many allege that the Confederacy lost the Civil War because
of internal divisions or civilian disaffection, others point to
flawed military strategy or ambivalence over slavery. This book
argues that we should not ask why the Confederacy collapsed so
soon, but rather how it lasted so long. The book re-examines the
Confederate experience through the actions and words of the people
who lived it, to show how the home front responded to the war,
endured great hardships and assembled armies that fought with
spirit and determination. This portrait of the period highlights a
sense of Confederate patriotism and unity in the face of a
determined adversary. Drawing on letters, diaries and newspapers of
the day, the author challenges current historical thinking by
showing that Southerners held not only an unflagging belief in
their way of life, which sustained them to the bitter end, but also
a widespread expectation of victory and a strong popular will
closely attuned to military events. The book also claims, in
contrast to the beliefs of many historians, that the South's
offensive-defensive strategy came very close to triumph. To
understand why the South lost, Gallagher says we need look no
further than the war itself - a long struggle with enormous loss of
life and property and the final realization by the Southerners that
they had been beaten on the battlefield.
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