Civil War Book Review: Moments of Despair: Suicide, Divorce, and Debt in Civil War Era North Carolina

by James Durney on May 12, 2011 · 0 comments

Moments of Despair: Suicide, Divorce, and Debt in Civil War Era North Carolina
by David Silkenat

A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee's Triumph 1862-1863 by Jeffry D. Wert

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (February 21, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780807834602
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807834602
  • ASIN: 0807834602

Social History at its best!

It is not often I find a social history that is fun to read, one that grabs my attention and holds it the way a good battle history can.  This book manages to do that while being very informative and giving the reader an understanding of these issues in North Carolina.  While focused in one state many of the attitudes are common throughout the South.  This provides us with a detailed examination of the subject that carries into the larger picture.  The author has an easy to read informative style that is almost conversational.  However, he manages to provide a lot of information at the same time.

The book covers approximately 1840 to 1910, a period of great change both socially and financially throughout the state.  This tight focus allows detailed consideration of the attitudes of both Blacks and Whites on each item.  This provides a unique look at the changes emancipation bring to the Black community.  Credit in the Antebellum White community is a personal concern between friends acting as gentleman.  Debit as understood in Northern financial circles is foreign to them.  The hyperinflation of the Civil War and emancipation placed strains on this community that I had not considered until reading this book.  Throughout the book are “fun facts” that both advance the discussion and add value.  As an example, Indiana has the most liberal divorce laws in the 1850s.  Emancipation did not wipe out the debts incurred purchasing slaves.

The book is organized into sections of about 70 pages each, with a chapter on the subject prior to the war. Two chapters cover how the war affects the subject and changes after the war.  A fourth chapter looks at the overall issue during the period covered.  Each chapter presents the views of the White and Black community presenting a comprehensive discussion of the subject.  This provides sufficient space to present a quality discussion without bogging down in details.

This excellent book is a social history of the changing attitudes toward Suicide, Divorce, and Debt.  It is a personal look at the South, how the people lived and the affects of the war.  Overall, it is a fun and informative read providing background information that will help us understand both Secession and Reconstruction.


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