Review: The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies

by Brett Schulte on March 15, 2010 · 2 comments

Bynum, Victoria E. The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies. The University of North Carolina Press (2010). 240 pages, 9 illustrations, 1 map, notes, bibliography, index. ISBN: 978-0-8078-3381-0 $35.00 (Hardcover).

TheLongShadowOfTheCivilWarSouthernDissentAndItsLegaciesBynum Review: <i>The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies</i>Was the Lost Cause tradition of a “Solid South” a myth?  Author Victoria Bynum conclusively answers this question in the affirmative in her upcoming book The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies, due out April 2010.  The author uses three completely separate but in some ways similar Southern “piney woods” communities to highlight the ways in which some Southerners fought against the Confederacy throughout its brief existence.  These communities are then followed throughout much of the rest of the 19th Century and into the 20th Century, showing how the Civil War molded and shaped them and their residents.  The result is an engaging and varied introduction into the complex world of the post-Civil War South.

Author Victoria Bynum is already well-known for her interest in and published book on Unionist Newt Knight, leader of the Free State of Jones in Mississippi and open father of mixed race children at a time when this practice was extremely taboo.  UNC Press has also published her book Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South.  In many ways, this work is a reflection on and extension of the earlier two.  Professor Bynum, has, in effect, written a book about those themes which have most interested her throughout her study of American History, neatly tied together in a common narrative which was interesting throughout.  This reviewer read the book in one sitting, something which happens rarely anymore.

The Southern Unionist communities of the Quaker Belt in North Carolina, The Free State of Jones in Mississippi, and The Big Thicket area of East Texas provide most of the subject matter for The Long Shadow of the Civil War.  The guerrilla leaders of these communities, Bill Owens in North Carolina, Newt Knight in Mississippi, and Warren Collins in Texas, were very different men.  In many ways, the communities were different as well.  Despite these differences, author Bynum shows how these communities were tied together by migration patterns, first from North Carolina to Mississippi, and then from that state to Texas, as the slaveholding populations of the first two areas grew.  In addition, the Unionist Collins family featured prominently in both Texas and Mississippi, with Warren’s brother Jasper serving as Newt Knight’s second in command in the Free State of Jones.  After explaining the differences in these communities, Bynum carefully looks at how the circumstances of each shaped the ways in which they resisted Confederate authority.  Levels of resistance varied even from county to county within each general area, as the author’s look at Orange and Randolph counties in North Carolina shows.

Each community offers up varied topics near and dear to the author’s heart, from Newt Knight’s repeated attempts to gain a pension from the U.S. government to the ways in which the three guerrilla leaders’ sons chose to remember their fathers in later years.  Issues of a heavily segregated South in postbellum years such as miscegenation, mixed race communities, and the “problem” of “White Negroes” for white supremacists are covered as well.  Essentially, this book serves nicely as a primer for those new to the study of the South in post-Civil War years.  The political battles of the heavily racist Southern Democratic Party with dissenters such as the Poluist movement in the late 19th Century provide yet another avenue of study to pursue.  Even those more comfortable reading about battles and leaders will find many items of interest in The Long Shadow of the Civil War.

Interestingly, in books published about the primary Unionist men in later years, controversies such as the mixed race offspring of Newt Knight or the Socialist leanings of Warren Collins were alternately hidden or displayed, often for reasons one might not at first suspect.  Ethel Knight’s Echo of the Black Horn is one such example.

The struggle of Newt Knight’s mixed race offspring to succeed in life provides a major sub-theme of this book.  Some chose to identify as White, while others preferred to be called Native Americans or Blacks.  Each person tried to choose an identity which would best help them to prosper in the community in which they lived, with varying levels of success.

The Long Shadow of the Civil War, as its title should suggest, is not a book which focuses too much attention on the Civil War itself.  This might be a good or bad thing, depending on the interests of readers.  Those who enjoy the study of Reconstruction social and political battles as much or more than the military conflicts of the Civil War will find a wealth of material here for further study.  Bynum, as her writing shows, is extremely comfortable with, even fascinated with, the material in this book.  Her engaging writing style will no doubt interest many readers of her book as well.  With every published book similar to The Long Shadow of the Civil War, the myth of the Lost Cause fades deeper into obscurity.

I would like to thank Gina Mahalek at The University of North Carolina Press.

Disclaimer: A copy of the book reviewed was provided gratis.

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