Cover image for The wars of Reconstruction : the brief, violent history of America's most progressive era
The wars of Reconstruction : the brief, violent history of America's most progressive era
Egerton, Douglas R.
Personal Author:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Bloomsbury, 2014
Physical Description:
438 pages : illustrations, portraits ; 25 cm
A history of the Reconstruction years, which marked the United States' most progressive moment prior to the Civil Rights movement, tells the stories of the African-American activists and officeholders who risked their lives for equality after the Civil War.

"By 1870, just five years after Confederate surrender and thirteen years after the Dred Scott decision ruled blacks ineligible for citizenship, Congressional action had ended slavery and given the vote to black men. That same year, Hiram Revels and Joseph Hayne Rainey became the first African-American U.S. senator and congressman respectively. In South Carolina, only twenty years after the death of arch-secessionist John C. Calhoun, a black man, Jasper J. Wright, took a seat on the state's Supreme Court. Not even the most optimistic abolitionists had thought such milestones would occur in their lifetimes. The brief years of Reconstruction marked the United States' most progressive moment prior to the civil rights movement. Previous histories of Reconstruction have focused on Washington politics. But in this sweeping, prodigiously researched narrative, Douglas Egerton brings a much bigger, even more dramatic story into view, exploring state and local politics and tracing the struggles of some fifteen hundred African-American officeholders, in both the North and South, who fought entrenched white resistance. Tragically, their movement was met by ruthless violence-not just riotous mobs, but also targeted assassination. With stark evidence, Egerton shows that Reconstruction, often cast as a "failure" or a doomed experiment, was rolled back by murderous force. The Wars of Reconstruction is a major and provocative contribution to American history." -- Publisher's description.
Prologue: Robert Vesey's Charleston -- "An eagle on his button": Black men fight for the union -- "To forget and forgive old scores": war's end, activism's beginning -- "All de land belongs to de yankees now": the Freedmen's Bureau -- "The Lord has sent us books and teachers": missionaries and community formation -- "We will remember our friends, and will not forget our enemies": black codes and black conventions -- "Andrew Johnson is but one man": the Progressive Alliance coalesces -- "We knows that much better than you do": voting rights and political service -- "An absolute massacre": white violence and the end of Reconstruction in the South -- "We shall be recognized as men": the Reconstruction Era in memory -- Epilogue: the spirit of freedom monument.
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E668 .E35 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Author Notes

Douglas R. Egerton is a professor of history at LeMoyne College. He is the author of six books, including Year of Meteors- Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln , and the Election that Brought on the Civil War, He Shall Go Out Free- The Lives of Denmark Vesey, Gabriel's Rebellion- The Virginia Slave Conspiracies of 1800 and 1802 , and Death or Liberty- African Americans and Revolutionary America . He lives near Syracuse, New York.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this challenging history of America's first age of "progressive reform," Egerton, a professor of history at Le Moyne College, argues that the era of Reconstruction constituted the "most democratic" decades of the 19th century. Following the wartime contributions of African-American soldiers who "learned to march and read at the same time," came demands for suffrage and equality. The result is a chaotic nation reshaped by political activism, land reclamation, the reuniting of freed families, the creation of new unions and banking institutions, and, especially, the establishment of educational opportunities for African-Americans-a community that "everywhere emphasized cooperation" in the post-bellum period. These triumphs and the subsequent setbacks under Andrew Johnson's watch, followed by a "spike in white vigilantism" and local "political assassinations," are captured vividly through extensive use of primary source material. Key figures develop into rich characters, balancing Egerton's own objective, wide-seeing perspective, which even explores the revisionist Reconstruction histories that informed the American consciousness, particularly the pernicious effects of influential racist cinema. All told, Egerton's study is an adept exploration of a past era of monumental relevance to the present and is recommended for any student of political conflict, social upheaval, and the perennial struggle against oppression. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

The meaning of the American Civil War and Reconstruction has long been contested terrain. Egerton (history, LeMoyne Coll.; Death or Liberty: African Americans and Revolutionary America) delineates the circumstances during and after the war that favored progress in black-white relations and in advancing the nation toward a more just and democratic society. His approach follows in the tradition of W.E.B. DuBois's classic Black Reconstruction: An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880 (1935). Emphasizing action and reaction, Egerton situates Reconstruction's multifaceted promises over the tangled roots of conservative white racial supremacy and class lines that choked chances for either inter-racial accord or the growth of cooperative community. He explains how a broad spectrum of blacks and their dedicated white allies risked life and limb to advance their progressive cause only to be repulsed by vigilante white terrorism and the apathy and disdain of the nation's white majority. VERDICT Egerton's work joins scads of writing on Reconstruction but robustly updates much historiography as it focuses on the degree of Americans' commitment to practice the nation's foundational principle "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights."-Thomas J. Davis, Arizona State Univ., Tempe (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Reconstruction didn't fail; it was brutally suppressed by Southern "redeemers," including many Confederate veterans. The Civil War's formal end has long obscured this central fact about postbellum politics. Advocates for freedmen and democracy conscientiously pursued radical reforms. This threat to established order provoked not merely "riots" but massive, quasi-military repression. This is largely familiar, but emphasizing the dangers freedmen faced in exercising their rights helps to better understand Reconstruction. Egerton (LeMoyne College) has written extensively on revolutionary and early national history (e.g., Gabriel's Rebellion, CH, Feb'94, 31-3406). This work ventures into later years, extending his concern with racial violence and black resistance. This is a very "Du Boisian" work, sharing the great scholar's view that Reconstruction wasn't just about rebuilding the Southern economy, but reconstructing democracy throughout the US. Recounting Northern blacks' struggles for voting rights and the national quest for universal public education bolsters Du Bois's insight, as do sections assessing Reconstruction in scholarly and popular memory. Through detailed evaluations of officeholders and other activists, Egerton asserts that Reconstruction was the most progressive era in US history. Proponents of the 1960s and, especially, the New Deal may differ, but Egerton's strong case stimulates debate. Summing Up: Recommended. Most levels/collections. T. P. Johnson University of Massachusetts, Boston

Table of Contents

Prologue Robert Vesey's Charlestonp. 1
Chapter 1 "An Eagle on His Button": Black Men Fight for the Unionp. 22
Chapter 2 "To Forget and Forgive Old Scores": War's End, Activism's Beginningp. 57
Chapter 3 "All De Land Belongs to De Yankees Now": The Freedmen's Bureaup. 93
Chapter 4 "The Lord Has Sent Us Books and Teachers": Missionaries and Community Formationp. 134
Chapter 5 "We Will Remember Our Friends, and Will Not Forget Our Enemies": Black Codes and Black Conventionsp. 168
Chapter 6 "Andrew Johnson Is But One Man": The Progressive Alliance Coalescesp. 211
Chapter 7 "We Knows That Much Better Than You Do": Voting Rights and Political Servicep. 245
Chapter 8 "An Absolute Massacre": White Violence and the End of Reconstruction in the Southp. 284
Chapter 9 "We Shall Be Recognized As Men": The Reconstruction Era in Memoryp. 321
Epilogue The Spirit of Freedom Monumentp. 346
Acknowledgmentsp. 359
Notesp. 363
Indexp. 421