A Companion to the Civil War and Reconstruction

A Companion to the Civil War and Reconstruction

A Companion to the Civil War and Reconstruction

A Companion to the Civil War and Reconstruction

Synopsis

A Companion to the Civil War and Reconstruction addresses the key topics and themes of the Civil War era, with 23 original essays by top scholars in the field.
  • An authoritative volume that surveys the history and historiography of the U.S. Civil War and Reconstruction
  • Analyzes the major sources and the most influential books and articles in the field
  • Includes discussions on scholarly advances in U.S. Civil War history.

Excerpt

LACY K. FORD

Even at a distance of seven score years, the Civil War era remains the most riveting epoch in all of American history for scholars and the general public alike. In his sweeping synthesis of the capitalist world during the third quarter of the nineteenth century, The Age of Capital, 1848–1875, the gifted Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm noted with characteristic British understatement that the scholarly investigation of the “nature and origins of the American Civil War” had generated seemingly “endless dispute among historians” (Hobsbawm 1975: 154). Though the relative proportions have varied over time, the causes of the war, the contingencies of the war itself, and the long-term impact of the war on American society have all received abundant attention from scholars through the decades, turning the “battle of the books” over the Civil War era into the Hundred Years War of American intellectual life, a contest whose principal casualties have been pulp forests and red-eyed graduate students. Contributors to this volume accepted the daunting task of surveying this voluminous literature, or at least the most recent waves, and making sense of it for informed readers of the early twenty-first century. The volume is organized around the traditional tripartite themes of causation, war, and consequences, but its topics reflect the introduction of important new categories of analysis since the early 1960s.

Writing in the mid-1970s from his outsider perspective, Hobsbawm readily concluded that it could “scarcely be denied that slavery … was the major cause of the friction and rupture between the Northern and Southern states,” but he also pointed out that “the real question is why it [slavery] should have led to secession and civil war rather than to some sort of formula for coexistence.” After all, Hobsbawm suggested, “militant abolitionism alone was never strong enough to determine the Union’s policy” and “Northern capitalism” could easily have found it “convenient to come to terms with and exploit a slave South,” along the same lines as international businesses worked advantageously with a twentieth-century South Africa characterized by apartheid. Moreover, Hobsbawm noted, the Union victory that emerged from the conflict represented “the triumph of American capitalism and the modern United States,” but, while slavery was abolished, it hardly reflected the triumph “of the Negro, slave or free.” With the ultimate “failure” of Reconstruction, which Hobsbawm characterized as a program of forced democratization across racial lines . . .

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