When we talk about the Civil War, we often describe it in terms of battles that took place in small towns or in the countryside: Antietam, Gettysburg, Bull Run, and, most tellingly, the Battle of the Wilderness. One reason this picture has persisted is that few urban historians have studied the war, even though cities hosted, enabled, and shaped Southern society as much as they did in the North.
Confederate Cities, edited by Andrew L. Slap and Frank Towers, shifts the focus from the agrarian economy that undergirded the South to the cities that served as its political and administrative hubs. The contributors use the lens of the city to examine now-familiar Civil War–era themes, including the scope of the war, secession, gender, emancipation, and war’s destruction. This more integrative approach dramatically revises our understanding of slavery’s relationship to capitalist economics and cultural modernity. By enabling a more holistic reading of the South, the book speaks to contemporary Civil War scholars and students alike—not least in providing fresh perspectives on a well-studied war.
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Andrew L. Slap is professor of history at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of The Doom of Reconstruction: The Liberal Republicans in the Civil War Era and editor of Reconstructing Appalachia: The Civil War’s Aftermath. Frank Towers is associate professor of history at the University of Calgary. He is the author of The Urban South and the Coming of the Civil War and coeditor of The Old South’s Modern Worlds: Slavery, Region, and Nation in the Age of Progress.Review:
“As the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War draws to an end, Slap and Towers have given us a wonderful collection of incisive and provocative essays by some of the best historians in the field. Southern cities were vital crucibles of mobilization, information, and contestation during the Old South’s last stand, and they later became dynamic catalysts for change in the New South.” (Don H. Doyle, author of The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War)
“The image of an agrarian Confederacy engaged in a massive war against a more urban, industrial United States remains popular and influential. The essays in this impressive collection highlight the centrality of Confederate cities during the conflict. As a group, the authors illuminate questions relating to governmental reach, the structure of slavery, military affairs, refugees, industrialization, gender, and other important topics—while also demonstrating how wartime changes carried over into the postwar years.” (Gary W. Gallagher, author of The Union War)
“For too long historians have gazed at the South from the veranda of the plantation, rarely looking beyond the fields of cotton and tobacco to see the urban South. The essays in Confederate Cities strip away the veneer of a pastoral South to find a dynamic and diversified region imbedded within a world of transatlantic capitalism. The Civil War disrupted global connections and strained relations between town and country, but with the destruction of slavery and transportation expanded, urban spaces became enclaves of freedom for African Americans. Editors Slap and Towers have assembled a cast of superb historians who show a multitude of perspectives on the urban South as it endured the revolutionary consequences of Confederate defeat.” (Peter S. Carmichael, director, Civil War Institute, Gettysburg College)
“This collection of eleven essays is wide ranging in its treatment of the urban South during and immediately after the Civil War. Essays explore urban communication, the role of cities in the war, the impact of emancipation on urban life, the development of African American schools, and the promotion of Southern cities such as Norfolk and Hampton Roads. Although not given to the quantitative analyses of the new urban history of the 1970s and 1980s, the essays do reflect another ongoing tension within urban history—that between those who write about events that happened in cities (a case study approach) and those who describe historical patterns that are helpful to understanding the city as city. . . . Recommended.” (Choice)
“Confederate Cities shows that cities afford a sharp lens for examining the South in the Civil War era, revealing a picture of vigorous urban development, wartime upheaval, and dramatic transition. Among the many volumes of scholarly essays on particular aspects of American history published during the last couple of decades, this is one of the best. Comprising a dozen forcefully argued essays—including the editors’ superb introduction—the book also features a fiery foreword by David Goldfield (the dean of urban South historians), along with a welcome conclusion and a real index.” (Civil War Book Review)
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