Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South (BOOK REVIEW)

Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South, by Stephanie McCurry

Cambridge, Ma.:Harvard University Press, 2012. Pp. iii, 449. Notes, index. $21.95 paper. ISBN: 0674064216.

This look at the political life of the South on the eve of and during the Civil War, opens by asking, “Who are the people?”, and then proceeds to examine the complexities of class, gender, and race in the south during the Civil War.

Prof. McCurry (Penn) is a specialist in nineteenth century southern life and culture. Her previous book, Masters of Small Worlds, examines social and political life in South Carolina’s “Low Country” before the Civil War. In Confederate Reckoning McCurry reminds us that in the ante bellum South, the people who counted politically were no more than a third of the population, that is white men. But within that group it was the even small slaveholding minority which brought about secession, plunging the South into war.  Nevertheless, as the struggle for Confederate independence deepened, the South’s political leadership found increasing difficulties in sustaining the war effort, and the traditionally disenfranchised sectors of society became, in varying ways, politically active.  This created problems with which the South’s leaders were poorly prepared to cope, and usually responded with repressive measures, thus deepening the internal political crisis.  White women protested food shortages, inflation, and taxation in kind, while increasing numbers of poor white men resisted conscription or deserted, and enslaved African Americans became increasingly restive, fleeing bondage and even enlisting in the Union ranks.

A ground-breaking look at the consequences of the Civil War on the political life and social structure of the Confederacy.


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