APPOMATTOX by Elizabeth R. Varon


Victory, Defeat, and Freedom at the End of the Civil War
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What exactly was the meaning of the surrender at Appomattox?

Robert E. Lee's surrender of his starving army to Ulysses S. Grant effectively brought the Civil War to an end; remaining military resistance collapsed shortly thereafter. But once the killing ceased and the Confederate troops had returned home under magnanimous surrender terms, what had truly been resolved? Slavery and secession were ended by force of arms; the South accepted that, however grudgingly. Yet many social and political questions remained to be settled by leaders from both sides of the conflict. Predominating among these leaders were the border-state Democrat Andrew Johnson, who had succeeded the murdered Lincoln, and Lee and Grant themselves. Varon (History/Univ. of Virginia; Disunion!: The Coming of the American Civil War, 1789–1859, 2008, etc.) considers how the months following the surrender came to be viewed by each side as a golden opportunity for conciliation squandered by the other, partly as a result of radically different interpretations of the meaning of the North's military victory and the terms under which the South had laid down its arms. Drawing on sources ranging from newspaper editorials and congressional testimony to the poetry of Herman Melville, the author explores the evolving disagreements between Unionists and the former Confederates about moral culpability for the war, the restoration of the occupied states to the union, and especially about the rights to be accorded the freed slaves. Johnson's approach to reconstruction seemed only to substitute serfdom for slavery and otherwise left the South largely unchanged; this enraged the radical Republicans, who saw this result as a betrayal of the Union dead. Grant observed and vacillated but finally supported the radicals. Lee emerges as less the conciliating figure of modern legend and more a sectional leader who felt betrayed by what he saw as federal interference in Southern affairs beyond anything agreed to at Appomattox.

A careful, scholarly consideration of how the ambiguities surrounding the defeat of the South resolved into the bitter eras of Reconstruction and Jim Crow.

Pub Date: Oct. 3rd, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-19-975171-6
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2013


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