Confederate Homefront: Montgomery during the Civil War

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Confederate Homefront: Montgomery during the Civil War. By William Warren Rogers, Jr. (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1999. Pp. xiv, 209. Preface, illustrations, acknowledgments, epilogue, notes, bibliography, index. $29.95.)

William Warren Rogers' Confederate Homefront makes a valuable contribution to the emerging picture of life behind the Civil War's battle lines. It will be especially prized by those interested in the social world ardent Confederates made for themselves in areas safe from federal occupiers. The book considers the history of Montgomery, Alabama from the eve of war in 1860 to the surrender of the city to Union troops on April 13, 1865, three days after Lee's capitulation at Appomattox. While paying attention to regional differences within the South, Rogers views Montgomery as a fairly representative example of the experience of Confederate townsfolk. He consistently contrasts the "veneer of normality" that Montgomerians strove to maintain with "the lacerating forces of war" that "stripped the lacquer from any romantic notion of war and revealed its unvarnished reality" (pp. 152-153). Yet perhaps more remarkable than the war's destruction of secessionist dreams was the determination of white Montgomerians to fight on long after military events had made defeat a foregone conclusion.

For all of its typicality, Montgomery stood out as the first capital of the Confederacy. In the heady spring of 1861, a spirit of optimism and occasionally foolhardy overconfidence came to town along with the new government's legislators, soldiers, and myriad hangers-on. Rogers shows how the deficient resources of Montgomery-a city by nineteenth-century standards but one with only 8,843 people in 1860-combined with better known military and political factors to convince Jefferson Davis to move his government to Richmond after Virginia seceded.

Montgomerians enjoyed a safety from combat that most other southerners envied. Nonetheless, as a state capital and transshipment point between the eastern and western theaters, Montgomery was an important strategic site for the Confederate war effort. Decreasing resources and growing demoralization of the local population progressively undermined the ability of Confederate administrators to manage the city's hospital and supply services. The Union blockade and Confederate impressment of civilian property crippled the trade in cotton and other goods that had made antebellum Montgomery a commercial boomtown. …