Book Review The Civil War and Reconstruction

Philip Leigh

formerly Harvey Johnson
Joined
Oct 22, 2014
The Civil War and Reconstruction
J. G. Randall and David Donald
D. C. Heath & Company, Boston, 1961
808 pages


Randall and Donald’s Civil War and Reconstruction is the best single volume account I’ve found. Even though it is about 800 pages, nearly every sentence is packed with information. It is also largely free of the biases that infected earlier eras of interpretation as well as today’s prejudices. Although my copy of the book has been a handy reference for the past decade, I had never read it through until the quarantine when I discovered that physical copies are only available for about $950 in the used marketplace. Fortunately, Amazon offers a Kindle for $6.49 and the Internet Archive even has a free version of the 1969 edition.

Although the original version was published in 1937, my copy is a revised edition prepared by David Donald in 1961, as is the Kindle. Donald explains that his revision is “less pro-Southern than was Mr. Randall’s original manuscript.” In part this reflects “the fact that Mr. Randall, as a Northerner, tried very hard to be fair to a section to which he did not belong, while I, as a Mississippian, feel proud of my Southern heritage and aware of its deficiencies. The most striking changes in my edition occur in the section on Reconstruction. . . where I have tried to show Negroes, carpetbaggers, and scalawags in a fuller, and I hope fairer, light. . . I have also continued to adhere to the belief that . . . military history is only one important aspect of the Civil War, deserving no fuller attention than, say, wartime finance or diplomacy.”

Although the volume focuses on the 1850 to 1877 period, it also includes developments from earlier eras to provide important context. While slavery is a frequent topic until the 13th​ Amendment is ratified, a special chapter on “Slavery” provides a discussion of the applicable laws and practices as well as the evolution of Atlantic trade and Southern attitudes toward manumission. Perhaps the reader can see how the excerpt below would be omitted from most modern texts:

The prewar South, especially before 1830, was far from unanimous in supporting slavery. . . There were Southerners who deplored the institution, such as Jefferson, Lee, Washington, George Mason, and John Tyler; and even active Southern abolitionist, such as J. G. Birney and Cassius Clay. On the other hand, slavery supporters were numerous in the North. . . The practice of indentured servitude was recognized in the 1818 Illinois constitution and was made effective by statutes passed in 1819. It is probable that out-and-out recognition of slavery would have been included in the 1818 constitution had not Illinois feared that recognition would defeat the admission of the state into the Union.​

In Indiana much the same situation existed. [When preparing for admission as a state, Indiana petitioned Congress to suspend] that article of the Northwest Ordinance that forbade slavery [in its borders]. . . This . . . was not approved by the [full] Congress, but it is significant that such a recommendation could be made by a congressional committee in 1806. . . Sectional differences concerning the right and wrong of Negro bondage is not as clear-cut as has been supposed.​

Many of the chapters, such as those treating border state problems, non-military developments, intellectual tendencies, anti-war efforts, religious and educational movements, propaganda methods, literature, cultural changes, home front challenges, women, War Department organization, recruitment, blockade running, inter-belligerent trade, Buchanan’s secession dilemma, and others are strikingly original.

As a result, the bibliography is a gold mine because it includes sources on a wide variety of subjects. If included in the Kindle version, it alone is well worth the price. The chapter that included French adventurism in Mexico is a brief, yet authoritative enough, to save those unfamiliar with the topic considerable reading time. The one on West Virginia secession was an eye opener. The scandalous methods of preventing Maryland’s secession are succinctly explained as are prisoner exchange protocols and controversies. Even an attempt by stock speculators to make a killing in the market by sending a phony Associated Press release to two New York newspapers is mentioned in a newspaper censorship discussion. The release falsely reported that Lincoln was making another 400,000-man draft call, which would likely cause the stock market to drop.

Finally, when additional context is needed the authors use abundant footnotes for elaboration, not merely for citation, but to explain additional points.

In terms of fairness, originality, and reliability, a better book there never was.
 
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Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
This was the he principal textbook for my college class in Civil War & Reconstruction back in the late 1970s.
 

Andersonh1

Brigadier General
Moderator
Joined
Jan 12, 2016
Location
South Carolina
Thanks to this review, I've purchased and begun reading the Kindle version. As if I'm not already in the middle of several other books! It feels like it's flying through the era, and it does genuinely feel mostly neutral in its approach so far, by which I mean I don't feel like the author is taking sides. It is a good attempt at a "just the facts" approach to history, which I appreciate.
 

Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
I think a lot of historians today would consider this book to be pro-South. I doubt that it is taught at any colleges or universities now.
 
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Rebforever

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Oct 26, 2012
I think a lot of historians today would consider this book to be pro-South. I doubt that it is taught at any colleges or universities now.
If one reads Pro North what would be so bad about reading Pro South?
I can understand why it would be dropped in colleges. It is a embarrassment to think America did such a thing to fellow Whites and Blacks during Reconstruction and Military Occupation in The American South.
 
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Andersonh1

Brigadier General
Moderator
Joined
Jan 12, 2016
Location
South Carolina
And the thing is, it's really not "pro-South" at all. The author genuinely seems to be attempting to be fair and reasonably neutral to both sides. But these days, a book that doesn't constantly tell the reader that the South was bad bad bad is considered pro-South and probably "lost cause".
 
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uaskme

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 9, 2016
Location
SE Tennessee
If one reads Pro North what would be so bad about reading Pro South?
I can understand why it would be dropped in colleges. It is a embarrassment to think America did such a thing to fellow Whites and Blacks during Reconstruction and Military Occupation in The American South.

I think it is more Pro Truth. I’ve read about 50 pages of it. I read Philip’s book on Trading with the Enemy, which is excellent. Well sourced. I’ve spent a lot of time reading his sources and have bought some of his other recommendations. He has helped me understand the War. This is a different view of Reconstructio.

Philip has quite a few credit hours in Finance. He has a understanding and can express a view most Historians can’t. I great appreciated this view. Something Foner couldn’t Rent.

Thanks Philip.
 

DavidM

Cadet
Joined
May 17, 2020
This book was the text used for the Civil War courses I took in college, during the late 1980s. There was some assigned reading from it, but I went beyond that, reading extra, many times at the expense of my other courses. 🙂 In recent years, I was able to find a hardcover version in excellent condition from the 1960s, and I look forward to diving into it again.
 

Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
If one reads Pro North what would be so bad about reading Pro South?
I can understand why it would be dropped in colleges. It is a embarrassment to think America did such a thing to fellow Whites and Blacks during Reconstruction and Military Occupation in The American South.

Pro-South or not, it's a high-quality book produced by professional historians who were at the top of their fields at the time.

At this stage of my reading career, I don't much care whether a book is pro-South or pro-North. I want a book that is well-researched and honest in its presentation.

I flipped through my copy yesterday (yes, I still have my college copy from 40 years ago!) and don't think the Civil War material would cause much protest today. The chapters on Reconsruction seem very heavily influenced by the Dunning School, though, and my guess is that is where any modern-day objections would arise.
 

uaskme

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 9, 2016
Location
SE Tennessee
Thanks for the heads up. I will down load it. I finished your book last night. I thought I respond to the thread about your book, Southern Reconstruction. Have a habit of looking silly. I will read it.

”not as clear as been supposed“——“exert below would be omitted from most modern text” Yep, thats what I have encountered in my brief period of studying the CW. Thanks for your Contribution.
 

Philip Leigh

formerly Harvey Johnson
Joined
Oct 22, 2014
Pro-South or not, it's a high-quality book produced by professional historians who were at the top of their fields at the time.

At this stage of my reading career, I don't much care whether a book is pro-South or pro-North. I want a book that is well-researched and honest in its presentation.

I flipped through my copy yesterday (yes, I still have my college copy from 40 years ago!) and don't think the Civil War material would cause much protest today. The chapters on Reconsruction seem very heavily influenced by the Dunning School, though, and my guess is that is where any modern-day objections would arise.
If your copy is the version that David Donald updated, the coverage of Reconstruction is fairly balanced.
 

Rebforever

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Oct 26, 2012
Pro-South or not, it's a high-quality book produced by professional historians who were at the top of their fields at the time.

At this stage of my reading career, I don't much care whether a book is pro-South or pro-North. I want a book that is well-researched and honest in its presentation.

I flipped through my copy yesterday (yes, I still have my college copy from 40 years ago!) and don't think the Civil War material would cause much protest today. The chapters on Reconsruction seem very heavily influenced by the Dunning School, though, and my guess is that is where any modern-day objections would arise.
Do you critique those words you read and you find something different you didn't believe, do you change your mind? Or do you believe what you had learned over the years?

And where are these "Professional Historians" from and what tells you they are not biased.

I don't understand the book thing.
 

CSA Today

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Honored Fallen Comrade
Joined
Dec 3, 2011
Location
Laurinburg NC
The Civil War and Reconstruction
J. G. Randall and David Donald
D. C. Heath & Company, Boston, 1961
808 pages


Randall and Donald’s Civil War and Reconstruction is the best single volume account I’ve found. Even though it is about 800 pages, nearly every sentence is packed with information. It is also largely free of the biases that infected earlier eras of interpretation as well as today’s prejudices. Although my copy of the book has been a handy reference for the past decade, I had never read it through until the quarantine when I discovered that physical copies are only available for about $950 in the used marketplace. Fortunately, Amazon offers a Kindle for $6.49 and the Internet Archive even has a free version of the 1969 edition.

Although the original version was published in 1937, my copy is a revised edition prepared by David Donald in 1961, as is the Kindle. Donald explains that his revision is “less pro-Southern than was Mr. Randall’s original manuscript.” In part this reflects “the fact that Mr. Randall, as a Northerner, tried very hard to be fair to a section to which he did not belong, while I, as a Mississippian, feel proud of my Southern heritage and aware of its deficiencies. The most striking changes in my edition occur in the section on Reconstruction. . . where I have tried to show Negroes, carpetbaggers, and scalawags in a fuller, and I hope fairer, light. . . I have also continued to adhere to the belief that . . . military history is only one important aspect of the Civil War, deserving no fuller attention than, say, wartime finance or diplomacy.”

Although the volume focuses on the 1850 to 1877 period, it also includes developments from earlier eras to provide important context. While slavery is a frequent topic until the 13th​ Amendment is ratified, a special chapter on “Slavery” provides a discussion of the applicable laws and practices as well as the evolution of Atlantic trade and Southern attitudes toward manumission. Perhaps the reader can see how the excerpt below would be omitted from most modern texts:

The prewar South, especially before 1830, was far from unanimous in supporting slavery. . . There were Southerners who deplored the institution, such as Jefferson, Lee, Washington, George Mason, and John Tyler; and even active Southern abolitionist, such as J. G. Birney and Cassius Clay. On the other hand, slavery supporters were numerous in the North. . . The practice of indentured servitude was recognized in the 1818 Illinois constitution and was made effective by statutes passed in 1819. It is probable that out-and-out recognition of slavery would have been included in the 1818 constitution had not Illinois feared that recognition would defeat the admission of the state into the Union.​

In Indiana much the same situation existed. [When preparing for admission as a state, Indiana petitioned Congress to suspend] that article of the Northwest Ordinance that forbade slavery [in its borders]. . . This . . . was not approved by the [full] Congress, but it is significant that such a recommendation could be made by a congressional committee in 1806. . . Sectional differences concerning the right and wrong of Negro bondage is not as clear-cut as has been supposed.​

Many of the chapters, such as those treating border state problems, non-military developments, intellectual tendencies, anti-war efforts, religious and educational movements, propaganda methods, literature, cultural changes, home front challenges, women, War Department organization, recruitment, blockade running, inter-belligerent trade, Buchanan’s secession dilemma, and others are strikingly original.

As a result, the bibliography is a gold mine because it includes sources on a wide variety of subjects. If included in the Kindle version, it alone is well worth the price. The chapter that included French adventurism in Mexico is a brief, yet authoritative enough, to save those unfamiliar with the topic considerable reading time. The one on West Virginia secession was an eye opener. The scandalous methods of preventing Maryland’s secession are succinctly explained as are prisoner exchange protocols and controversies. Even an attempt by stock speculators to make a killing in the market by sending a phony Associated Press release to two New York newspapers is mentioned in a newspaper censorship discussion. The release falsely reported that Lincoln was making another 400,000-man draft call, which would likely cause the stock market to drop.

Finally, when additional context is needed the authors use abundant footnotes for elaboration, not merely for citation, but to explain additional points.

In terms of fairness, originality, and reliability, a better book there never was.
Wow, I bought a 1961 edition for $9.53 while in graduate school at Appalachian State U back in the 60s.
 

Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
Do you critique those words you read and you find something different you didn't believe, do you change your mind? Or do you believe what you had learned over the years?

And where are these "Professional Historians" from and what tells you they are not biased.

I don't understand the book thing.

Yes, I mentally critique a book as I go along. I've read a lot of Civil War books, so I am delighted when I come across something new or something that seems unbeleivable. In those cases I try to find other sources to confirm or rebut what I have discovered. And yes, I do change my mind about specific things, but a single book can't revolutionize my thinking or change my point of view. I try to take a detached, non-partisan view, so it doesn't bother me if a writer is pro-south or pro-north, as long as the book is otherwise well constructed.

Where a 'Professional Historian' comes from tells you very little, and it certainly doesn't tell you much about bias. The Ivy League has produced thousands of conservative, pro-South books over the years, despite the belief by some here at CWT that it only churns neo-Marxian, pro-North material. The advantage of the professional historian is that they try to maintain porfessional standards in their work, which is ususally an effective check against bias gone wild. All that notwithstanding, books by non-professional are often very valuable, and the literature of the war would be much poorer if all we had was the work of college professors.
 
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uaskme

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 9, 2016
Location
SE Tennessee
College Professors can’t be Historians? Professional would include those who made money from their work.

I‘ve read Freehling, McPherson and Foner, I like Philip Foner. All of those have left something out, or portrayed something that maybe had more than 1 meaning. Doing so, portrays a Narrative. No one has a copyright on the CW. Interpretation has changed. Most accept the Interpretation they favor. Some of this older work escapes some modern biases.

I’ve read the first 40 some pages. The portion about the South is similar to any, Yankee walks thru the South Narrative. Rich Planters, poor crackers, anti Government Hill Toppers. I’m a Hill Topper. Author throws in Kephart, and his portrayal of the Southern Highlands, Don’t get me started on that one. Which would give creditability to the authors Analysis of mid western attitudes about Slavery. Also talks about the Pro Slavery view of the North. Lincoln’s conservatism. Says Lincoln wasn’t an abolitionist. Lincoln said the same thing, so that’s believable. Analysis I’m familiar with. Surely not the first time I’ve heard it. I don’t see an overtly Southern Narrative. Guess I will read on.
 
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CSA Today

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Honored Fallen Comrade
Joined
Dec 3, 2011
Location
Laurinburg NC
Do you critique those words you read and you find something different you didn't believe, do you change your mind? Or do you believe what you had learned over the years?

And where are these "Professional Historians" from and what tells you they are not biased.


I don't understand the book thing.
Reb,
James G. Randall was a native of Indiana. Although he was a Lincoln scholar and admirer he had the reputation for being fair to the South. David Donald was from Mississippi and a former student of Randall. He was more liberal than Randall, especially in his later academic career.
 

CSA Today

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Honored Fallen Comrade
Joined
Dec 3, 2011
Location
Laurinburg NC
I think it is more Pro Truth. I’ve read about 50 pages of it. I read Philip’s book on Trading with the Enemy, which is excellent. Well sourced. I’ve spent a lot of time reading his sources and have bought some of his other recommendations. He has helped me understand the War. This is a different view of Reconstructio.

Philip has quite a few credit hours in Finance. He has a understanding and can express a view most Historians can’t. I great appreciated this view. Something Foner couldn’t Rent.

Thanks Philip.
I don't know whether he has mentioned it or not (I've been away for a while) but Philip has a number of informative articles over at the Abbeville Institute.
 
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