One of my favorite lessons with my students is discussing the Civil War/ War Between the States. It's important to emphasize that the North and South were both to blame in terms of how they handled the crises leading up, how the regions and their people's philosophies conflicted, and that nothing can justify the evils of slavery, even if someone had good intentions. I also like to add that slavery is nothing new to history - it should not be surprising that our country had it - especially considering trade with other countries - and we should be proud to have gotten rid of it within one hundred years of America's Founding. That is exceptional. And racism? That is a power struggle and it is wrong.
Here are a few excellent books for adults to read!
Ordeal By Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction by James McPherson and James Hogue
This is actually the textbook from college days that I read during my Civil War/ War Between the States class. It is written in the narrative, which lends to a beautiful visualization of the historical events. This book gets into the sociology of the culture as well, and really fleshes out the country. An outstanding read!
A Nation Transformed: How the Civil War Changed America Forever by Gerald S. Henig and Eric Niderost
I picked this book up in Georgia at a local history museum in Marietta. If you're looking for a book like the above (but not as academic), this book is a dream. It is well-written, discusses over 150 "firsts" in our country as mini-chapters, has 160+ pictures, and is very detailed and delightful.
Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee
I was shocked to hear that politicians in Maryland wish to re-name Robert E. Lee Park to a more "sensitive" name so as to not honor someone who "led the forces in rebellion against the United States of America on behalf of secessionists who sought to perpetuate slavery" - frankly, this shows a deficiency of knowledge and understanding about General Lee and his life. Here is a letter written by Lee on December 27, 1856 [separated and emphasized by me for easier reading] in response to a speech by President Pierce:
I was much pleased with the President's message. His views of the systematic and progressive efforts of certain people at the North to interfere with and change the domestic institutions of the South are truthfully and faithfully expressed. The consequences of their plans and purposes are also clearly set forth. These people must be aware that their object is both unlawful and foreign to them and to their duty, and that this institution, for which they are irresponsible and non-accountable, can only be changed by them through the agency of a civil and servile war. There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil. It is idle to expatiate on its disadvantages.
I think it is a greater evil to the white than to the colored race. While my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more deeply engaged for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, physically, and socially. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their further instruction as a race, and will prepare them, I hope, for better things. How long their servitude may be necessary is known and ordered by a merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild and melting influences of Christianity than from the storm and tempest of fiery controversy. This influence, though slow, is sure. The doctrines and miracles of our Saviour have required nearly two thousand years to convert but a small portion of the human race, and even among Christian nations what gross errors still exist!
While we see the course of the final abolition of human slavery is still onward, and give it the aid of our prayers, let us leave the progress as well as the results in the hands of Him who, chooses to work by slow influences, and with whom a thousand years are but as a single day. Although the abolitionist must know this, must know that he has neither the right not the power of operating, except by moral means; that to benefit the slave he must not excite angry feelings in the master; that, although he may not approve the mode by which Providence accomplishes its purpose, the results will be the same; and that the reason he gives for interference in matters he has no concern with, holds good for every kind of interference with our neighbor, - still, I fear he will persevere in his evil course. . . . Is it not strange that the descendants of those Pilgrim Fathers who crossed the Atlantic to preserve their own freedom have always proved the most intolerant of the spiritual liberty of others?
This volume of letters was collected and curated by his son, Robert, and gives insight into the man of compassion and culture. He was a true gentleman, and whose character is worth studying. Maryland should proudly have a park named after him!
Bonus: currently free for Kindle!
Emilie Davis's Civil War: The Diaries of a Free Black Woman in Philadelphia, 1863-1865
This woman has a very unique perspective, and I love primary documents. A free black woman in the north who was active in the abolitionist movement? Sign me up!
The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution That Transformed the South by Bruce Levine
If you want to understand the origins of the War, that is awesome. But don't forget about Reconstruction - for example, President Johnson's allowance of black codes is a lasting legacy and a contributing reason we are still seeing the horrible repercussions of racism today. This is a fantastic book.
Joining up with Jenna!
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