Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Rich Man's War: Class, Caste, and Confederate Defeat in the Lower Chattahoochee Valley

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Rich Man's War: Class, Caste, and Confederate Defeat in the Lower Chattahoochee Valley

Article excerpt

Rich Man's War: Class, Caste, and Confederate Defeat in the Lower Chattahoochee Valley. By David Williams. (Athens, Ga., and London: University of Georgia Press, c. 1998. Pp. xvi, 288. $34.95, ISBN 0-8203-2033-1.)

During the 1990s studies of the Confederate homefront have revealed a surprisingly fractured and divided South. In Appalachia and in eastern North Carolina, areas that were outside the cotton plantation belt, torn loyalties and even guerrilla conflict plagued communities already stressed by war. Now David Williams has looked into the heart of the Black Belt, the rich cotton lands of southwest Georgia and southeast Alabama, and there too he finds a divided Confederacy. He argues that defeat came not at Vicksburg, Atlanta, or Petersburg; rather, defeat came from the Confederacy's failure to marshal popular support in places like the Chattahoochee Valley. Conflicts there, resulting from both racial and class divisions, fatally undermined the Confederate war effort.

Williams races through a quick summary of the developing cotton kingdom and its spread to the Chattahoochee Valley. This introductory chapter deserves more detail on the development of class divisions that will play such a powerful role in the author's later argument. Williams then convincingly lays out how the elite used their political and economic power to lead a reluctant white yeomanry into voting for secession. The vote was close, and enthusiasm for the new nation was not widespread. The realities of the war led to growing resentment among the whites who had to fight. Conscription fed white men's and their families' bitterness, and, combined with existing Unionism, this sentiment rendered parts of the valley uncontrollable for the government. …

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