Beyond Redemption: Race, Violence, and the American South after the Civil War

By Slap, Andrew L. | The Journal of Southern History, November 2014 | Go to article overview

Beyond Redemption: Race, Violence, and the American South after the Civil War


Slap, Andrew L., The Journal of Southern History


Beyond Redemption: Race, Violence, and the American South after the Civil War. By Carole Emberton. American Beginnings, 1500-1900. (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2013. Pp. [viii], 285. $45.00, ISBN 978-0-226-02427-1.)

Carole Emberton's book would have fit perfectly in Yael A. Sternhell's recent perceptive review essay, "Revisionism Reinvented? The Antiwar Turn in Civil War Scholarship," in the Journal of the Civil War Era (3 [June 2013], 239-56). According to Sternhell, in recent years historians of the Civil War have turned away from a master narrative that celebrates the heroics of soldiers, the agency of blacks, and the end of slavery. Instead, historians have increasingly focused on the brutality of the war and the grim side of emancipation, with most participants becoming either villains or victims. There are certainly plenty of both villains and victims in Emberton's interpretation of violence during Reconstruction.

Emberton starts with the idea that violence played a formative role in the development of American politics and national identity. She argues that the Civil War, however, was violence on an unprecedented scale, with profound and lasting effects on the nation. In particular, Emberton contends that the Civil War and the process of emancipation produced a very strong and unfortunate connection between violence, manhood, and citizenship that hurt blacks for generations. Black men and their abolitionist allies, according to Emberton, equated military service with manhood and citizenship. The violence associated with carrying a bayonet, though, was double-edged for blacks. It incited southern whites to use even more violence to make blacks victims, demonstrate the powerlessness of the federal government, and ensure white supremacy in the South. Emberton suggests throughout the book that this racial violence from Reconstruction "reflected and reinforced well-established cultural patterns and ideological imperatives within the larger nation," and that it has lasted into the twenty-first century (p. 9).

This book is primarily cultural history and concerned principally with perceptions of violence, rather than the actual violence itself. There are some clear strengths, such as nice use of interdisciplinary theory and extensive analysis of visual imagery. …

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