The Louisiana Scalawags: Politics, Race, and Terrorism during the Civil War and Reconstruction

By Hyde, Samuel C., Jr. | The Journal of Southern History, May 2014 | Go to article overview

The Louisiana Scalawags: Politics, Race, and Terrorism during the Civil War and Reconstruction


Hyde, Samuel C., Jr., The Journal of Southern History


The Louisiana Scalawags: Politics, Race, and Terrorism During the Civil War and Reconstruction. By Frank J. Wetta. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2012. Pp. [xii], 244. $42.50, ISBN 978-0-8071-4746-7.)

In the Reconstruction-era South no group of individuals was more despised by native whites than those who had earned the derisive epithet scalawag. Unlike the carpetbagger, who allegedly migrated, carpetbag in hand, from the North to exploit the defeated South, the scalawag was a native southerner who betrayed his region purely for self-promotion and opportunity. Early studies of Reconstruction generally advanced an unflattering perception of the scalawags. Recent scholarship, influenced by the transformation in popular attitudes since the 1950s, has offered a more sympathetic portrayal of the scalawags that often seeks to understand rather than simply condemn them.

In this new volume from Louisiana State University Press, historian Frank J. Wetta offers specifics rather than generalities in identifying the scalawags. He suggests that in the complex world of Louisiana politics and culture the scalawags are better understood if they are considered for their individual motives rather than the collective result. Though Wetta assigns a list of characteristics common to the Louisiana scalawags, the broad nature of the list reflects a great deal of individualism and diversity.

The author advises readers that much of The Louisiana Scalawags: Politics, Race, and Terrorism During the Civil War and Reconstruction was constructed as a dissertation more than thirty years ago, and it shows. Wetta's seeming lack of awareness concerning critical studies of the era appearing since he graduated will be painfully evident to scholars of Louisiana history. His evidence, though at times voluminous, likewise reflects the limitations of time. …

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