The Confederate Reader: How the South Saw the War (Civil War)

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Grant and Robert E. Lee that it is modifying from a show first mounted by the Virginia Historical Society, shifting the Southern perspective northward. An empathetic exposition of the Confederate perspective poses some knotty problems.


Confederate symbols are more than mere artifacts. The flag was the badge of segregationists in the civil rights era; it retains that resonance. The Museum of the Confederacy, then, has a daunting task. It was founded in the s by the daughters of Lee and Davis and other women, who solicited memorabilia from Confederate families to create a nostalgic shrine to what was then called the Lost Cause. During the last two decades the museum has been delicately redefining itself.

It has an extraordinary collection of 15, artifacts and , manuscripts. There is also little discussion of slavery before or during the Confederacy. Despite such limitations, the museum sheds light on a dark time. The Confederacy fully believed it was fighting a second American Revolution. For the South, the cost of these convictions was particularly high.

The only problem is that you never come to grasp precisely why these men were sacrificing their lives. For greater understanding you must go to the American Civil War Center, housed in the historic Tredegar Iron Works that once supplied the Confederacy with much weaponry.

View all New York Times newsletters. There are times when the tell-all-sides pose becomes intrusive, particularly since competing ideological positions are strangely called Union, Home and Freedom. The legislative reconquest was backed by violence: the Ku Klux Klan, formed as a terrorist organization by ex-Confederate officers, began murdering and maiming assertive black citizens.

In , after a mere dozen years in which black suffrage and racial equality were at least grudgingly accepted national principles, the federal government pulled its last troops from the South and, in what could be called the Great Betrayal, an order of racial subjugation was restored. Some battles, both real and rhetorical, do stand out.

There were the arguments in Congress, pitting newly minted and almost impossibly eloquent black representatives against ex-Confederate politicians who a few years earlier had been sending hundreds of thousands of young men to their death in order to preserve the right to keep their new colleagues in perpetual servitude. He knew what it would cost him in status throughout the old Confederacy, but he did it anyway, because it was the right thing to do. Gates emphasizes that Reconstruction was destroyed not by white terrorism alone but also by a fiendishly complicated series of ever more enervating legal and practical assaults.

The overtly racist decision in Plessy v. Ferguson arrived long after the worst was already done, but it sealed the earlier discrimination in place, and Jim Crow thrived for another half century. Meanwhile, at least some of those Northern liberal abolitionists—including the likes of Henry Adams and the well-meaning Horace Greeley—managed, in the way of high-minded reformers, to let their pieties get the better of their priorities: recoiling against the apparent improprieties of the pro-suffrage Grant Administration, they made common cause with the Democrats who were ending democracy in the South.

It was a paradox too tragic to explain. Gates is one of the few academic historians who do not disdain the methods of the journalist, and his book which accompanies a four-hour PBS series he has made on the subject is flecked with incidental interviews with and inquiries of other scholars, including the great revisionist historian Eric Foner. Though this gives the book a light, flexible, talking-out-loud texture, it is enraging to read—to realize how high those hopes were, how close to being realized, how rapidly eradicated.

The last black U. The eclipse of formal black political power happened, in significant part, by violence. The historian David Blight estimates that, between and , something like ten per cent of the blacks who attended constitutional conventions in the South were attacked by the Klan.

Gates quickly moves beyond the immediate political context of black disenfranchisement to tell the sad story of how an ideology that justified racism as science, and bigotry as reason, grew and governed minds across the country. It is still difficult to credit how long the Lost Cause lie lasted. So, of course, are the salient facts of the so-called Reconstruction years. A turn in the South has happened, though. White, writing with a microscopically attentive eye to the fine shadings of the period, gives a full picture of terror rampant, justice recumbent, and liberty repressed.

What are the limits of appropriating a derogatory vocabulary? It is fine to call painters who had no desire to give us their impressions Impressionists, but it somehow feels unfair to use epithets that imply bad intentions where one can find purposes largely good.

American Civil War Photos In Color

Could things have gone otherwise? Contingency counts and individuals matter. Chosen in the good-enough-to-balance-the-ticket way that Vice-Presidents so often were, right up through Harry Truman, Johnson was openly racist, poorly educated, and bad-tempered. But President Grant followed President Johnson, and Grant, as Ron Chernow showed in his recent biography , tried very hard for a while to end the terror and to maintain what were already being called civil rights.

Yet even that hardly helped. One mistake the North made was to allow the Confederate leadership to escape essentially unscathed. The premise of postwar de-Nazification, in Germany, was a sound one: you had to root out the evil and make it clear that it was one, and only then would minds change. One might at first find it inspiring to read the gallant and generous remarks of Robert Brown Elliott, a black congressman representing South Carolina, as he defended civil rights against Representative Alexander Stephens, of Georgia, the former Vice-President of the Confederacy.

Stephens then made it plain that slavery was the only thing at issue, and its permanent perpetuation the only demand that could never be compromised. What the hell was he doing back there in Congress, one wonders, after all that death and suffering? He should have counted himself lucky not to have been hanged.

I would rather associate with loyal Negroes than with disloyal white men. I would rather be buried in a Negro graveyard than in a rebel graveyard. We must now accept these men as citizens and comrades, if not fully as brothers.

One Confederate general who did make the turn was Longstreet, a genuinely heroic figure. Fifty thousand casualties in three days at Gettysburg: for us, those are numbers; for their countrymen, it was fifty thousand fathers and sons and brothers wounded or dead. War weariness is essential to the shape of the postwar collapse. The hope that, in , even a well-intended cohort of former abolitionists would focus properly on the denial of civil rights to blacks in the South was morally ambitious in a way that is not entirely realistic.

Richard White, like many others, points to the retreat on the part of Northern liberals from aggressively advocating for black rights, while perhaps not sufficiently stressing one good reason for it: the unimaginable brutality many had experienced in fighting the war. The Lecompton Constitution, which would have allowed slavery in Kansas, was the result of massive vote fraud by the pro-slavery Border Ruffians.

Douglas defeated the Lecompton Constitution because it was supported by the minority of pro-slavery people in Kansas, and Douglas believed in majority rule. Douglas hoped that both South and North would support popular sovereignty, but the opposite was true. Neither side trusted Douglas.

American Civil War - The military background of the war | Britannica

The Supreme Court decision of in Dred Scott v. Sandford added to the controversy. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney 's decision said that blacks were "so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect," [] and that slavery could spread into the territories even if the majority of people in the territories were anti-slavery.

Lincoln warned that "the next Dred Scott decision" [] could impose slavery on Northern states. President James Buchanan decided to end the troubles in Kansas by urging Congress to admit Kansas as a slave state under the Lecompton Constitution. Kansas voters, however, soundly rejected this constitution—at least with a measure of widespread fraud on both sides—by more than 10, votes. As Buchanan directed his presidential authority to this goal, he further angered the Republicans and alienated members of his own party.

Prompting their break with the administration, the Douglasites saw this scheme as an attempt to pervert the principle of popular sovereignty on which the Kansas—Nebraska Act was based. Nationwide, conservatives were incensed, feeling as though the principles of states' rights had been violated. Crittenden key figures in the event of sectional controversies —urged the Republicans to oppose the administration's moves and take up the demand that the territories be given the power to accept or reject sovereignty.

As the schism in the Democratic party deepened, moderate Republicans argued that an alliance with anti-administration Democrats, especially Stephen Douglas, would be a key advantage in the elections. After all, the border states had often gone for Whigs with a Northern base of support in the past without prompting threats of Southern withdrawal from the Union. Among the proponents of this strategy was The New York Times , which called on the Republicans to downplay opposition to popular sovereignty in favor of a compromise policy calling for "no more slave states" in order to quell sectional tensions.

The Times maintained that for the Republicans to be competitive in the elections, they would need to broaden their base of support to include all voters who for one reason or another were upset with the Buchanan Administration. Indeed, pressure was strong for an alliance that would unite the growing opposition to the Democratic Administration. But such an alliance was no novel idea; it would essentially entail transforming the Republicans into the national, conservative, Union party of the country.

In effect, this would be a successor to the Whig party. Republican leaders, however, staunchly opposed any attempts to modify the party position on slavery, appalled by what they considered a surrender of their principles when, for example, all the ninety-two Republican members of Congress voted for the Crittenden-Montgomery bill in Although this compromise measure blocked Kansas' entry into the union as a slave state, the fact that it called for popular sovereignty, rather than outright opposition to the expansion of slavery, was troubling to the party leaders.

In the end, the Crittenden-Montgomery bill did not forge a grand anti-administration coalition of Republicans, ex-Whig Southerners in the border states, and Northern Democrats. Instead, the Democratic Party merely split along sectional lines. Anti-Lecompton Democrats complained that a new, pro-slavery test had been imposed upon the party.

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The Douglasites, however, refused to yield to administration pressure. Like the anti-Nebraska Democrats, who were now members of the Republican Party, the Douglasites insisted that they—not the administration—commanded the support of most northern Democrats. Extremist sentiment in the South advanced dramatically as the Southern planter class perceived its hold on the executive, legislative, and judicial apparatus of the central government wane.

It also grew increasingly difficult for Southern Democrats to manipulate power in many of the Northern states through their allies in the Democratic Party.

Myths & Misunderstandings: What Caused the Civil War

Historians have emphasized that the sense of honor was a central concern of upper-class white Southerners. The abolitionist position held that slavery was a negative or evil phenomenon that damaged the rights of white men and the prospects of republicanism. To the white South this rhetoric made Southerners second-class citizens because it trampled what they believed was their Constitutional right to take their chattel property anywhere. Butler of South Carolina:.

Not in any common lust for power did this uncommon tragedy have its origin. It is the rape of a virgin Territory, compelling it to the hateful embrace of slavery; and it may be clearly traced to a depraved desire for a new Slave State, hideous offspring of such a crime, in the hope of adding to the power of slavery in the National Government. Sumner famously cast the South Carolinian as having "chosen a mistress Abolitionists routinely accused slaveholders of maintaining slavery so that they could engage in forcible sexual relations with their slaves.

Brooks , Butler's nephew. Sumner took years to recover; he became the martyr to the antislavery cause who said the episode proved the barbarism of slave society. Brooks was lauded as a hero upholding Southern honor.

Causes Of The Civil War Summary
The Confederate Reader: How the South Saw the War (Civil War) The Confederate Reader: How the South Saw the War (Civil War)
The Confederate Reader: How the South Saw the War (Civil War) The Confederate Reader: How the South Saw the War (Civil War)
The Confederate Reader: How the South Saw the War (Civil War) The Confederate Reader: How the South Saw the War (Civil War)
The Confederate Reader: How the South Saw the War (Civil War) The Confederate Reader: How the South Saw the War (Civil War)
The Confederate Reader: How the South Saw the War (Civil War) The Confederate Reader: How the South Saw the War (Civil War)
The Confederate Reader: How the South Saw the War (Civil War) The Confederate Reader: How the South Saw the War (Civil War)

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