Crucible of the Civil War: Virginia from Secession to Commemoration

By McClurken, Jeffrey W. | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, January 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Crucible of the Civil War: Virginia from Secession to Commemoration


McClurken, Jeffrey W., The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


Crucible of the Civil War: Virginia from Secession to Commemoration * Edward L. Ayers, Gary W. Gallagher, and Andrew J. Torget, eds. * Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006 * x, 226 pp. * $35.00

This book is the work of eight recent University of Virginia graduate students, most working with Gary Gallagher or Edward Ayers. This collection sits within two vibrant scholarly subfields, one pushing beyond the military history of the Civil War and the other assessing the distinctiveness of Virginia's Civil War experiences. The former is a decades-long part of the explosion of Civil War academic works, while the latter can be seen in two recent anthologies (Virginia's Civil War [2005] and Virginia at War [2005, 2007]).

If there is a common theme to the essays here, it is that of slavery's continued importance in Virginia, and despite diversity and tensions, the commitment of white Virginians to the Confederate cause. Gallagher's brief introduction notes the centrality of Civil War Virginia and makes a historiographie case for these essays. Co-editor Andrew Torget wades into the debate over the secession movement in Virginia by examining newspapers in three counties in the Valley of Virginia. Bitter antebellum partisanship was replaced by a unified defense of Virginia's interests, especially slavery, leading to support for secession by March of 1861. Wayne Wei-Siang Hsieh skillfully employs the unheralded decisions by Virginia's West Point graduates who chose to stay with the Union as a challenge to historiographie and popular assertions of the inevitability of Robert E. Lee's decision to side with Virginia. Aaron Sheehan-Dean describes the way white Virginians (except in northwest Virginia) consciously overcame long-standing and reinvigorated intrastate regional tensions to create a unified state identity through broadly democratic politics and diverse slavery-based growth before the war, through shared purpose and sacrifice during the war, and in an increasingly idealized Confederate identity after it. Amy Minton's study of the language of respectability in Richmond's five wartime newspapers finds a unifying rhetoric linking character for men and women of all classes to Confederate patriotism that masked real tensions in the capital. Jaime Amanda Martinez persuasively demonstrates that although political, economic, and military factors, including impressment and industrial demand, strained Virginia's wartime slave market, especially in the hiring of adult men, the viability of that market until 1865 testified to white Virginians' continued commitment to slavery and belief in the Confederacy. …

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