Sunday, February 10, 2008

Five best books about the post-Civil War period

Stephen Budiansky is the author of The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox, which has just been published by Viking.

He named a five best list of books which "capture the hope and turmoil of the post-Civil War period" for the Wall Street Journal.

Number One on the list:
The Era of Reconstruction, 1865-1877
By Kenneth M. Stampp
Knopf, 1965

For the better part of a century few American historians questioned the standard picture of Reconstruction as a dark chapter of corrupt and oppressive misrule, when radical Republicans seeking partisan advantage and personal plunder wreaked terrible vengeance on a prostrate South. Kenneth M. Stampp was one of the first historians to take on these myths in a comprehensive fashion, and 43 years later his book remains fresh and startling. In New York City alone, he notes, "the thefts of public funds by white Tammany Democrats surpassed the total thefts in all the southern states combined." The new Southern state constitutions -- reviled by the white old guard as the work of Northern "outcasts," "ignorant and depraved negroes," and "renegade" Southern whites -- were in fact models of progressive reform, advancing the rights of women, establishing public education and ending the monopoly on power by wealthy landowners. (In South Carolina, voters got to cast ballots for governor and president for the first time.) And far from suffering oppression, the defeated South was treated with a mildness unprecedented for instigators of unsuccessful rebellions throughout history. No Confederate officeholder or soldier was ever charged with treason; almost none even lost property except for emancipated slaves; and within a few years former Confederate leaders were back serving as state governors, U.S. senators and congressmen, and cabinet officials.

Read about another title to make the list.

Learn more about The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox.

--Marshal Zeringue