Lesley J. Gordon, John C. Inscoe, eds. Inside the Confederate Nation: Essays in Honor of Emory M. Thomas. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2005. v + 381 pp. $65.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8071-3099-5; $19.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8071-3231-9.
Reviewed by John D. Fowler (Department of History, Kennesaw State University)
Published on H-South (January, 2007)
Revolutionary Approaches to the Revolutionary Experience
As evidenced by its title, this excellent festschrift is dedicated to the work of Emory Thomas, one of the most influential historians of the Confederate period. The volume is edited by Lesley Gordon and John Inscoe, impressive historians in their own right. Gordon, an associate professor of history at the University of Akron, is the author of General George E. Pickett in Life and Legend (2001) and co-author of This Terrible War: The Civil War and Its Aftermath (2002). Inscoe, a professor of history at the University of Georgia, is the author, editor, and/or coeditor of eight books, including The Heart of Confederate Appalachia (2000) and Enemies of the Country (2001).
The contributors include many of Thomas's former graduate students as well as notable historians, and although their essays cover diverse topics, they all revolve in one way or another around issues raised or inspired by Thomas's major works, The Confederacy as a Revolutionary Experience (1970) and The Confederate Nation (1979). At the core of Thomas's work was his contention that the Civil War initiated a radical restructuring of Southern society. Undoubtedly, the aim of the counterrevolution of 1861 was to maintain the antebellum status quo, especially in regard to the South's socioeconomic structure (slavery) and cherished political principles (states' rights). However, the realities of waging a war of such magnitude forced white Southerners to adapt or discard their notions and opt for a more centralized society that in the end was willing to consider the abolition of slavery in order to achieve independence.
Historians accepted Thomas's thesis almost immediately, and he emerged as one of the most important Civil War/Southern historians. Yet, he had fixated primarily on a top-down view of the transformation and was more concerned with how the economy and political structure was affected. The essays chosen for the festschrift explore the remaking of Southern society and go well beyond Thomas's initial ideas, illustrating the evolution in methodology and focus that have affected the study of history in general and that of the Civil War in particular in regard to the emphasis placed on ordinary people. Instead of examining the Confederacy from the vantage point of the wealthy and influential, modern scholars have increasingly looked to the experiences of ordinary Southerners, including soldiers and civilians, blacks and whites, and men and women in order to understand what the war meant to individuals, families, and communities. The richness and value of this approach is apparent in the quality and scope of the essays included.
Gordon and Inscoe ably organize the diverse essays into four broad categories--"Nationalism and Identity," "Family and Gender," "Race," and "Memory and Legacies." The volume begins with a fine forward that includes an introduction from the editors and a nice retrospective piece of Thomas's career by Russell Duncan and Jennifer Lund Smith.
The eight essays comprising "Nationalism and Identity" cover myriad events and personalities, yet each in some facet investigates how Southerners identified with their fledgling Republic. The first offering by William C. Davis explores the strong secessionist attitudes of many influential Southerners during the Fort Sumter Crisis. David McGee follows with a fascinating look at the socio-economic transformation of Raleigh, North Carolina, during the onset of the war. Brian Wills's excellent article, probing nationalism and loyalty in the residents of Suffolk, Virginia, and its environs, uncovers strong support for the Confederate cause even under Union occupation. Frank J. Byrne's essay on journalist Daniel R. Hundley and novelist John Beauchamp Jones reveals how Confederate identity and nationalism was shaped by prewar literature. James McPherson analyzes the effects that the Antietam campaign and Abraham Lincoln's subsequent issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation had on Confederate diplomacy, specifically on the effort to gain British and French recognition. In one of the book's most revealing chapters, Keith Bohannon explores re-enlistments in the Confederate Army of Tennessee in early 1864. Bohannon finds that Confederate soldiers viewed their renewed commitment to the Confederate cause as a public statement to boost civilian morale and defy the Union. The provocative essay by Rod Andrew Jr. challenges the long-accepted view that the 1863 Congressional elections demonstrated waning support for the Davis administration and deep war weariness. To the contrary, Andrew discovers in the campaign rhetoric of the winning candidates support for the war and Confederate independence. In this section's final entry, Christopher Phillips touches on the neglected topic of the allegiance and Confederate identity of the Border States of Kentucky and Missouri. Although the Confederacy claimed both states, the majority of their populations remained loyal to the Union. However, enough people supported the rebellion to generate a nasty arena for guerrilla war and internecine violence. Phillips posits that the emancipation of the slaves in these states, along with the commemoration of the Lost Cause across the South, resulted in the white population developing a Confederate identity after the war.
The book's second section on "Family and Gender" contains four essays that explore how individuals struggled with Confederate identity and nationalistic support. Jean E. Friedman offers an interesting look at how families and morals influenced loyalty and commitment to the Confederate cause. Lesley Gordon's use of the wartime letters of two ordinary adolescent Southerners, Bobbie Mitchell and Nettie Fondren, highlights the interrelationship between a person's loyalties and national allegiances. She further captures the persuasive powers that women wielded to bolster or erode the determination of the Confederate soldiers during the maelstrom of the war. Likewise, Jennifer Lynn Gross explores another important aspect of the influence of women on the Confederate cause with her examination of public assistance to the families of veterans. She traces how the governments of Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia gradually accepted their new role of provider for the widows and children of fallen soldiers, and she uncovers how completely the ideas of limited government gave way to the realities of poverty and the need to move beyond the inadequacies of family aid. In the last essay of this section, John Inscoe probes ideas about class and Confederate resistance. He finds that the elite mountain women of North Carolina were able to remain steadfastly pro-Confederate in the face of Union raids because of their greater economic resources.
The four essays comprising the section on "Race" are important in that they focus attention on a far-too-often ignored area of Confederate history. Joseph T. Glatthaar's article on the medical care received by black soldiers clearly illustrates the racism faced by African Americans from both Northern and Southern whites. Clarence L. Mohr's essay focuses on the black experience during the crucial Atlanta campaign. He details the ways in which both Confederate and Federal forces sought to use black labor and talent. More significantly, he chronicles the ways in which the campaign and the presence of Federal forces disrupted slavery. Thomas G. Dyer's piece on Robert Webster is an interesting portrait of a slave, entrepreneur, and unionist. Although certainly a unique individual, Webster's experiences demonstrate that the Confederacy contained a large and hostile population that wished to thwart the aspirations of the majority of whites. In one of the best essays in the book, Philip D. Dillard examines conflicted views on the arming of slaves as the Confederacy neared collapse. By comparing a community that faced Federal invasion (Lynchburg, Virginia) with one that did not (Galveston, Texas), Dillard discovers the not so surprising fact that fear motivated the desire to arm blacks.
The final section of the volume contains two interesting essays on historical memory by Glenna R. Schroeder-Lein and Nina Silber respectively. Schroeder-Lein examines the efforts of former Confederate surgeons to form the Association of Medical Officers of the Army and Navy of the Confederacy as a fraternal organization to commemorate their service. Silber analyzes the factors that led to the emergence of Robert E. Lee as an icon for both Northerners and Southerners following the Civil War. She finds in Lee the embodiment of all the Victorian Age held dear in terms of manhood. Thus, Lee was a perfect bridge for reconciliation as both sides could see in him something noble. The festschrift ends with kind words for Emory Thomas from William S. McFeely.
In sum, this is an excellent collection of essays by a new and gifted generation of historians that succeeds in honoring the achievements of Professor Thomas by expanding and adapting his own scholarship to new avenues of research. This book proves that festschrifts can be important contributions to the field and that, in our understanding of the Confederacy and the war fought for its existence, we still have much to learn.
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John D. Fowler. Review of Gordon, Lesley J.; Inscoe, John C., eds., Inside the Confederate Nation: Essays in Honor of Emory M. Thomas.
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