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.
women. In moving seamlessly between citizens and voters, they elided white women entirely and arrived at a radically delimited defini tion of the people. Adult white women were citizens in a constitutional sense although the obligations of citizenship had been defined by gender throughout the nation’s history. In the North and South, women’s standing as citizens had always been refracted through their normative adult status as wives, and by the state’s equal or greater commitment to
of the United States. Developments in the C.S.A. are of little significance in the drama of emancipation it plots. Yet the slaves’ war started in Confederate territory, was first waged against their own masters on their own plantations, and, in ways we have never really appreciated, forced constant revision not just in Union but in Confederate politics and policy. As every enslaved man, woman, and child knew, the destruction of slavery required the destruction of the slaveholders’ state, with
suspect by then that their rebel loyalties consisted of more than gestures. In Winchester, Mary Greenhow Lee’s public gestures of contempt concealed activities explicitly defined as treason, some of them punishable by execution. Although it took the federals some time to figure it out, Lee was the center of a Confederate mail network that carried letters (sometimes fifty a month) and money across the lines. Lee was also a smuggler who stockpiled money and contraband goods (she called them her
proliferating war policies of state and federal officials bore down on every rural community and town in the new C.S.A. As the web of relations between the state and citizens daily thickened, politics remained exclusively an affair of men. Citizen-men conducted the nego tiations over what the community could sustain, defined and represented their vital interests, and pressed them on the state. From the very moment officials began to make demands on the population for the manpower and
the Citizens of Columbus, Mississippi, who begged Governor Pettus to mount sufficient local defense for “the protection and support of the families of our soldiers,” seemed genuinely concerned about the effect of government war policies on dependents.13 The civic recognition of soldiers’ families as a constituency that the government must serve had its basis in real need. But the claim to provide service to soldiers’ wives was also a strategic ploy, circulating currency in a new discursive