Civil War Book Review: Reconstructing Appalachia: The Civil War’s Aftermath

by James Durney on March 29, 2011 · 1 comment

Reconstructing Appalachia: The Civil War’s Aftermath
(New Directions in Southern History)
edited by Andrew L. Slap

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 390 pages
  • Publisher: The University Press of Kentucky (May 4, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813125812
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813125817

Reconstruction is one of the most contentious areas in American history, depending on who is talking:

Reconstruction is the process by which Freemen and loyal Unionist will form a new southern society.

Reconstruction is the process by which Radical Republicans try to punish and enslave white southerners.

Reconstruction fails due to Klan violence and the Federal withdrawal of support for loyal governments.

Reconstruction is a production of Northern fears, paranoia and the desire to exploit a defeated South.

Reconstructing Appalachia: The Civil War's Aftermath (New Directions in Southern History) edited by Andrew L. SlapWe seldom think of Reconstruction in the Mountains of Kentucky, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia or West Virginia.  We think of Reconstruction in the plantation areas or cites with large numbers of Freemen.  Appalachia, with a largely white population, few slaves, hardscrabble family farms and a large group loyal Unionist is not involved.  Kentucky remained in the Union and was never part of Reconstruction.  Lincoln pushed and pleaded for a campaign to occupy loyal eastern Tennessee during the war.  The western Carolinas were refuge to large numbers of Confederate deserters and Union guerrilla bands.  West Virginia left the Confederacy to join the Union.  What can we say about Reconstruction in Appalachia?

For this group of young historians, the answer is a lot!  The 13 well-written essays, covering from the end of the war to 1921, introduce a new world to many readers.  Reconstruction becomes a political contest for control of an area.  Much of this occurs at the county level and is very personal.  Reconstruction is less about Freemen’s rights than about who wins and who loses.  The bands of Confederate deserters and Union guerrillas did not disarm and go home after the war.  Returning soldiers did not find victory parades, as fighting for either side became unpopular.  The result is often bad guys vs. worse guys.  The individual essays are uniformly good.  All are informative, readable and well documented.  That they do not all agree captures the problems in the area and the different possible views.  The book’s organization is not geographic or chronological; this helps us understand the diversity of problems as we see the different reconstructions.  Violence is common and a part of political life, the war and Reconstruction just add reasons and bring better arms into the fray.

While this is not a book for everyone, it is necessary reading for those interested in Reconstruction, Appalachia or America after the war.


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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Richard Williams April 9, 2011 at 2:08 pm

“”The mountain people and small farmers didn’t own many slaves or care too much about states’ rights…. But they bore a great amount of the war’s destruction. It left them embittered, resentful of any government authority and suspicious of outsiders.”–Louisville Courier-Journal” — (From Amazon)

Oh boy, is that ever a true statement! I’m descended from some of these mountain people and live within a couple of miles of one of the original homesteads. I have 2 Confederate ancestors buried in family cemeteries in the Blue Ridge, again within a couple of miles of where I live. Much of this same attitude remains to this day. See James Webb’s “Born Fighting.”

Thanks for posting this.

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