Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South
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The story of the Confederate States of America, the proslavery, antidemocratic nation created by white Southern slaveholders to protect their property, has been told many times in heroic and martial narratives. Now, however, Stephanie McCurry tells a very different tale of the Confederate experience. When the grandiosity of Southerners' national ambitions met the harsh realities of wartime crises, unintended consequences ensued. Although Southern statesmen and generals had built the most powerful slave regime in the Western world, they had excluded the majority of their own people-white women and slaves-and thereby sowed the seeds of their demise.
Wartime scarcity of food, labor, and soldiers tested the Confederate vision at every point and created domestic crises to match those found on the battlefields. Women and slaves became critical political actors as they contested government enlistment and tax and welfare policies, and struggled for their freedom. The attempt to repress a majority of its own population backfired on the Confederate States of America as the disenfranchised demanded to be counted and considered in the great struggle over slavery, emancipation, democracy, and nationhood. That Confederate struggle played out in a highly charged international arena.
The political project of the Confederacy was tried by its own people and failed. The government was forced to become accountable to women and slaves, provoking an astounding transformation of the slaveholders' state. Confederate Reckoning is the startling story of this epic political battle in which women and slaves helped to decide the fate of the Confederacy and the outcome of the Civil War.
liberty.”12 Such anxiety about the plain folk was not often openly acknowledged in South Carolina, but Hamilton’s view of nonslaveholders as the weakest link figured centrally in fire-eaters’ aggressive propaganda campaign and electoral strategy in the critical fall of 1860. Nowhere in the South had secession been pursued as long or as pur- 44 l c o n f e d e r a t e r e c k o n i n g posefully as in South Carolina. Fire-eaters had made their first attempt in 1851, failing to unite
focuses more on processes than outcomes, putting the emphasis not on defeat but on the profound and unpredictable transformation into which the Confederacy was propelled by war. It looks at the interplay of political and military forces in ways that bring a whole new cast of characters into the making of history, including poor white rural women. And it takes an international perspective on the history of the C.S.A., which both brings to light a gendered history of war and emancipation
societies at war that erupted across the Western world in the age of emancipation. Far from working within national boundaries, what happened in the C.S.A. really only makes sense in light of related developments in other times and places. As a result, I adopt a broad set of coordinates for the history of the Confederacy and draw on an abundance of literature on comparative slavery and emancipation, state formation, agrarian and subaltern studies, and women’s and gender history to write it.
tory to waving men off to war. One young lady in rural Louisiana even made a Confederate flag and “presented it” to her slaves, who promptly accommodated her by marching around the house with it, or as she put it, marching “under their Confederate flag.” It was as if their loyalty could be stimulated by it as her own was: “I presented it to them,” she said, and “told them they must not let the Yankees get hold of it.”10 Women were so closely associated with symbols of the nation that when the
whirled on their heel in disgust as he approached, presenting him with a full view of their backsides. Ladies in Winchester, Virginia, had their own bag of tricks. They took to wearing thick veils and sunbonnets (what one Unionist woman derided as “Jeff Davis bonnets”) to avoid eye contact and carrying parasols in front of their faces even on cloudy days. In New Orleans and Baton Rouge young women openly flaunted orders against the display of “all devices, signs, and flags of the Confederacy,”