THE CONFEDERATE NATION 1861-1865 by Emory M. Thomas


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The first peculiarity of this latest volume in the New American Nation series is the introduction by series editors Commager and Morris; the author addresses himself, they say, to the question ""why did the South lose?"" But not only does Thomas never raise that ever-intriguing question, he concludes that ""the Confederacy was doomed from the outset by its archaic polity, society, economy, and 'peculiar institution' ""--which doesn't leave much room for discussion. No, his subject is Southern nationalism and its analogue, Confederate nationality, as in the chapter headings--Confederate Nationalism in the Pre-Confederate South, Foundations of the Southern Nation, Southern Nationality Established, Southern Nationality Confirmed, Confederate Nationality Confounded, etc. And once he has established the components of that nationalism (an elaboration, chiefly, on Cash's Mind of the South), the schematization does not make for stirring or stimulating reading in a general history. Indeed, the book lacks both narrative thrust and what Eaton's 1954 History of the Confederacy and Coulter's 1950 Confederate States of America each provide in its own way: a discussion of areas in depth. Thomas is also hamstrung by constant reiteration of stock phrases and hackneyed formulations. (In the section on blacks--which does, to the book's advantage, reflect recent scholarship--we find on p. 219: ""The black experience during wartime underwent subtle but profound metamorphosis. . ."" and on p. 234: "". . . by mid-1863 the Southern black experience had undergone subtle but profound metamorphoses."") These deficiencies preclude a wide voluntary readership, and insofar as the text is a synthesis of research findings, not an original contribution, there is no reason it should claim the attention of scholars--except perhaps to question Thomas' characterization of the Confederacy as a Revolutionary Experience, repeated from his 1971 book: a thesis weakened here, most critically, by his failure to take account of similar developments (from the draft to paper money to industrial mobilization) in the North. The book does have--and has made uninspired use of--an enormous bibliography.

Pub Date: April 15th, 1979
Publisher: Harper & Row