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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War - Nicholas Lemann Reading this book is like taking bitter medicine. It's good for you, but not pleasant. I had the same feeling at the beginning of this book as when I began Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee; which was, "This isn't not going to end well."

The book is about the post Civil War reconstruction era. This is a dark chapter of American history, but not for the reasons I was taught in school. I don't remember much of the specific facts that I was taught, but I remember picking up the impression that "scalawags" and "carpetbaggers" were bad people. This book provides an alternative view that if being a bad person is measured by the numbers of people murdered, terrorized, and tortured, then the white opponents of the reconstructionists were by far guilty of the worst behavior.

The book follows the life of Adelbert Ames who was appointed provisional governor of postwar Mississippi, was elected senator in 1870 and governor in 1873. He worked hard to protect the freedmen but failed, largely because the federal government was weary of garrisoning federal soldiers in the South and failed to provide necessary enforcement of law and order. The white Southerners soon learned that they could get away with murder, provided the violence was dispersed enough to not appear to be open insurrection. As time passed this relationship of terror was codified into the infamous "Jim Crow Laws."

Then ironically, recorded history got turned upside down, and the Southern whites became the heros of the era. Many historians began to repeat many of the myths voiced by the white Southerners as fact. The book's title refers to the popular version of Reconstruction in which valiant Southern whites "redeemed" their states from corrupt carpetbaggers and ignorant freedmen. So a case can be made that in actual practice, the South won the Civil War and the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments were little more than pieces of paper for about 100 years following the Civil War.