What Fresh Hell Is This?: Revisiting Reconstruction
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What Fresh Hell Is This?
Revisiting Reconstruction
Mark L. Bradley, Bluecoats & Tar Heels: Soldiers and Civilians in Reconstruction North Carolina (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2009. Pp. xi, 370. $25.00 paper)
Judkin Browning, Shifting Loyalties: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011. Pp. xiii, 250. $37.50 cloth)
Paul A. Cimbala and Randall M. Miller, eds., The Great Task Remaining Before Us: Reconstruction as America's Continuing Civil War (New York: Fordham University Press, 2010. Pp. xv, 268. $35.00 cloth)
Gregory P. Downs, Declarations of Dependence: The Long Reconstruction of Popular Politics in the South, 1861-1908 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011. Pp. 346. $39.95 cloth)
Philip Dray, Capitol Men: The Epic Story of Reconstruction through the Lives of the First Black Congressmen (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008. Pp. xiii, 463. $15.95 paper)
Gary Gallagher, The Union War (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2011. Pp. 215. $27.95 cloth) [End Page 559]
Benjamin Ginsberg, Moses of South Carolina: A Jewish Scalawag during Radical Reconstruction (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010. Pp. xi, 219. $21.95 cloth)
Suzanne Stone Johnson and Robert Allison Johnson, eds., Bitter Freedom: William Stone's Record of Service in the Freedmen's Bureau (Columbia, S. C.: University of South Carolina Press, 2008. Pp. 177. $29.95 cloth)
Chandra Manning, What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007 Pp. v, 350. $16.95 paper)
James Marten, Sing Not War: The Lives of Union and Confederate Veterans in Gilded Age America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011. Pp. xii, 339. $39.95 cloth)
Kate Masur, An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle for Equality in Washington, D.C. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010. Pp. x, 364. $39.95 cloth)
Jerry L. West, The Bloody South Carolina Election of 1876: Wade Hampton III, the Red Shirt Campaign for Governor, and the End of Reconstruction (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, 2011. Pp. 216. $35.00 paper)

To paraphrase Mr. Lincoln, writers must love Reconstruction—they make so many of them. Once the poor stepchild of Civil War histories, Reconstruction studies have become something of a growth industry with popular accounts of massacres and injustices, promises unfulfilled, and possibilities denied. In the last decade, there have been at least two books about the Colfax massacre, several more about the months at the end of the war, a lively potboiler about the president's impeachment, and three studies of the "stolen election" [End Page 560] of 1876. A very clever, challenging monograph by Gregory P. Downs uses Reconstruction as the starting point for his discovery that emancipation and the desolating need bred by devastating war created a new kind of politics, one based on those with power dispensing personal favors: contracts, jobs, services—and this "patronalism," as Downs calls it, created constituencies that saw government as their likeliest hope and the men in power as their personal friends. By his alchemy, the begging letters that every politician, north and south, saw, before and after the war, turn into one of the proofs of a very different statism, fostered by a government endowed with new and burgeoning responsibilities. There are even two books about "the great task remaining before us," one of them with that very title and the other actually showing what it may be. New scholarship explores the feminine side of Reconstruction, traces it outside of the reconstructed states into Kentucky and the District of Columbia, follows it down to the crossroads, and chases it all the way through to century's end and beyond. No reviewer could do justice to the scholarship; this one will do as little justice as it possibly can.

Publishing markets love a ripping story, and for those who write with sales in mind, Reconstruction provides blood-and-thunder stories, free from the dangers of too many notes or too-complicated thought. That does not make them untrue. Some of them make terrific reads. All they need are antidotes or, perhaps, sedatives, to be administered with them to let...


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