South Carolina's Civil War: A Narrative History

Article excerpt

South Carolina's Civil War: A Narrative History. By W. Scott Poole. (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2005. Pp. xiii, 187; $32, cloth.)

Over a half-century ago, Charles Cauthen published South Carolina Goes to War (1950), a one-volume history of the Civil War in South Carolina. As J. Tracy Power notes in the introduction to the recent reprint of Cauthen's work (2005), Cauthen intended the book to be a political history; indeed, over half of the book concerns the political events of "South Carolina's path toward secession, the secession crisis, and the months leading up to the firing on Fort Sumter." The time would seem ripe, then, for a book that expands the story of the Palmetto State's war experience, bringing the tools of the social historian to bear on this critical event.

W. Scott Poole has attempted to meet this need with the volume currently under review. This is a work of synthesis: scholars familiar with the period will not find any bold new interpretations. Poole has written this book for a popular audience, although he retains the scholarly apparatus of footnotes and also provides a bibliographic essay at the end. He has a brisk writing style with dashes of wit, and he deals forthrightly with slavery's role as the cause of the war, white Carolinians who opposed the war, and the idiosyncratic Executive Council. He also addresses the more typical topics of fighting and privations on the home front. Yet Poole's style may be a bit too brisk-as he flits from subject to subject, his treatment is broad, but not deep. This decision to sacrifice thoroughness is perplexing. While popular audiences may be scared off by dense academic prose, surely popular audiences need no special pleading when it comes to a historical period as perennially popular as the Civil War. …