Book Review: The Confederate States Of America: 1861-1865

The Confederate States Of America:  1861-1865, by Emory Thomas

This is a book that seeks to be revisionist and write about the Confederacy from its own perspective and it has some positive aspects and some areas where it falls a bit short.  It should be noted that the author appears to approach history from a war & society or social historical perspective and his grasp of military history is a bit lacking.  Considering that the Confederacy was involved in war for its entire brief existence, the fact that the author manages to confuse the “hard war” that was waged on it increasingly after 1863 with a total war approach as one would find in World War II, for example, is lamentable but somewhat common.  Those readers who come to this book more familiar with the military history perspective of the Civil War may find the author’s approach refreshing because of the author’s approach to questions about the society of the Confederacy and not merely its military fortunes, although there was obviously a connection between the will of the Confederacy to exist as a separate nation and the fate of its armies, and the author is certainly not entirely ignorant of these connections even if his grasp of military history is not as sound as one would wish.

This work is about 300 pages or so and is divided into twelve chapters.  The author begins with a revised introduction as well as a preface.  After that there is a discussion of the social economy of the Old South and its difference from the social economy of the North because of slavery and the influence of plantation aristocracy on larger society (1).  The author then examines the cultural nationalism of the pre-Confederate South (2) before discussing the foundations of the Southern Nation in the activity of Southern politicians in the period after Lincoln’s election but before his administration began (3).  The establishment and confirmation of the Confederacy is discussed after this, looking at Fort Sumter (4) and the victory at Bull Run (5).  After this the author discusses the confounding of southern nationalism through the defeats of early 1862 (6), which in the author’s mind led to the start of a more revolutionary aspect of Southern nationalism (7), as well as to struggles in the messaging of Southern diplomatic efforts (8) with European nations.  This leads to a discussion of the development of the Confederate South (9) and to its existence at full tide between Antietam and Gettysburg (10).  After this the author then closes the book somewhat abruptly with a discussion of the disintegration of the Confederacy in 1864 (11) and its death in 1865 (12), after which the author provides the Constitution of the Confederate States of America, as well as a bibliography and index.

As might be expected for a work that discusses the Confederate side of the picture, there is a lot of focus on the lead-up to the Civil War and on the first couple years of the Civil War and comparatively little on the end of the Civil War.  This obviously creates a huge imbalance in the text in terms of the focus given to certain aspects.  The book spends more time on the period before Fort Sumter than it does on the period between Gettysburg and the aftermath of Appomattox.  That this is so is because the author sees the same sort of trends visible throughout the Confederacy in such varied campaigns as the Overland campaign, the siege of Petersburg, the Atlanta campaign, and Price’s raid into Missouri, and the author is not inclined to discuss in detail the agonizing death throes of the Confederacy in the same way that someone who appreciates the Union victory would enjoy to savor it in its complete glory.  That said, even for this obviously biased reader, there was a modest enjoyment in the author’s attempt to discuss the home front and the diplomatic aspects of the Confederacy in a way that many books tend to overlook or minimize.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American Civil War, American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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