Surviving the Confederacy: Rebellion, Ruin and Recovery-Roger and Sara Pryor during the Civil War

By Gardner, Sarah E. | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, October 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

Surviving the Confederacy: Rebellion, Ruin and Recovery-Roger and Sara Pryor during the Civil War


Gardner, Sarah E., The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


Surviving the Confederacy: Rebellion, Ruin and Recovery-Roger and Sara Pryor During the Civil War. By JOHN C. WAUGH. New York and San Diego: Harcourt, Inc., 2002. xii., 448 pp. $28.00.

CASTING about to find the perfect Confederate couple to "carry the story" of the South from the turbulent 1850s through the post-Reconstruction era, historian John C. Waugh discovered Roger and Sara Pryor. "There could not have been a more appropriate pair," he declared in his introduction to Surviving the Confederacy. "When the country was splitting in the turbulent 1850s, they were there," he tells his readers, "intimates of two presidents. When the split came, Roger was there-on the floor of Congress, helping to drive the wedge. . . . When the fighting began, Roger was there-a colonel, then a brigadier, and finally a private in the Confederate army. When the South became a nation of refugees," Waugh continues, "Sara was there-homeless with the rest." And when the war was over, "they were still there-working to reknit the severed Union" (pp. 3-4). Waugh believes that the story of the Pryors will shed light on the history of the South during the war and its aftermath.

Surviving the Confederacy will undoubtedly frustrate and disappoint academic historians. Waugh has little appreciation for current scholarship. His discussion of Confederate women, for example, seems utterly uninformed by recent, prominent works on the subject. Although he lists George C. Rable's 1989 Civil Wars: Women and the Crisis of Southern Nationalism and Drew Gilpin Faust's 1997 Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War in his bibliography, he does not engage the arguments put forth in these works. Nor does he cite them in his endnotes. Similarly, he draws his discussion of antebellum southern politics largely from Avery O. Craven's 1953 The Growth of Southern Nationalism, 1848-1961, and from little else. Not surprisingly, then, Waugh does not situate Surviving the Confederacy in the larger historiographical debates on the nineteenthcentury South. …

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