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THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF DIXIE by Bruce Levine Kirkus Star


The Civil War and the Social Revolution that Transformed the South

by Bruce Levine

Pub Date: Jan. 8th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6703-9
Publisher: Random House

Levine (History/Univ. of Illinois; Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves during the Civil War, 2005, etc.) examines how the slaveholder republic of the Confederacy collapsed.

Early on in this splendidly colorful account, the author compares the old South’s disintegration to “The Fall of the House of Usher,” where microscopic cracks in the mansion’s foundation gradually widen until the building implodes. He extends the Poe-themed metaphor in a later chapter, invoking “The Masque of the Red Death,” when the Confederate elite of Montgomery and Richmond madly partied at splendid balls in 1864-1865, even as their civilization lay in ruins. Levine acknowledges that a force of arms was necessary to bring the South to its knees, and he frequently alludes to military developments that marked the South’s unfolding destruction. But how the confident exuberance of the secession spring turned into the bitter resignation of Appomattox is more than simply a story of battlefield reversals. War exposed Southern political, social and economic deficiencies in ways unanticipated by Confederate leaders. The increasingly bloody, expensive conflict shattered any number of illusions: about slaves’ faithfulness, white Southern unity, cotton’s supremacy, the unimportance of financial and industrial power, divine favor, unwavering martial spirit and Northern fecklessness. The war’s stresses and strains widened fissures between Jefferson Davis’ government and the economic elite, between master and slave, between plantation whites and the poor who shouldered a disproportionate share of the conflict’s burdens. Ironically, the enslaved third of its population, second only to land as a source of Southern wealth and the war’s proximate cause, emerged as Dixie’s “greatest and most severe structural weakness.” As the Northern armies advance in the background of his narrative, Levine recounts this tale of Southern institutional rot with the ease and authority borne of decades of study.

A sensitive, informed rendering of the wrenching reformation of the South.