- The Long Civil War in the North Georgia Mountains: Confederate Nationalism, Sectionalism, and White Supremacy in Bartow County, Georgia by Keith S. Hébert
A considerable body of scholarship has made the case for the distinctiveness of white Appalachian society and culture. In The Long Civil War in the North Georgia Mountains: Confederate Nationalism, Sectionalism, and White Supremacy in Bartow County, Georgia, Keith S. Hebért provides a sharp [End Page 174] counterpoint. His book, derived from his dissertation research, argues that Bartow County represents on a smaller scale not just the South but also all of America.
Situated in the northwest corner of Georgia, the county's 460 square miles of fertile land once belonged to the Cherokees. Their forced removal in the 1830s during the era of Andrew Jackson marked another ignominious chapter in the long history of both white populist democracy and white supremacy in the region. By the 1840s, slaves made up more than a fifth of the county's population. The profits derived from their forced labor sustained the political power of the county's dominant planter class. The racial ideology that justified and upheld slavery in Bartow County, and elsewhere throughout the South, provided the social glue that held together the South's white population despite the significant differences in politics, religion, and social class. For sure, the pro-Union sentiments held by many white Appalachians during the Civil War proved a major thorn in the Confederacy' s war effort. Yet, as Hebért points out, the desire of many white southerners in the antebellum period to peacefully resolve the slavery debate within the framework of a federal union could not match their shared conviction that black people should forever stay in a position of permanent legal and social inferiority. That conviction, combined with ties of kinship and culture, explains why the white citizens of Bartow County chose secession and how they maintained the will to wage war despite hardships and deprivations. The belief in both white supremacy and black slavery, more than anything else, propelled nearly a nearly a third of the county's white men to fight for the Confederacy; a third of those who did enlist gave their lives for a cause they felt worthy of their sacrifice.
Hebért's use of personal letters from the 1860s gives voice to people—male and female, rich and poor, black and white—who navigated, negotiated, and influenced the events of that tumultuous decade. His book does a fine job of shedding light on the impact of the war on the lives of Bartow County's residents and the challenges they faced in the postwar world. The freedpeople of Bartow County, nominally elevated to the status of free citizens after the war, struggled to assert their full claims to American life. As The Long Civil War in the North Georgia Mountains makes clear, the white majority population held hard and fast to the notion of white supremacy. In Appalachian Georgia, as in the rest of the United States, the Civil War wiped out legalized slavery and the vast wealth invested in human bondage. Still, no amount of destruction and suffering, no experience of military defeat and occupation, no constitutional amendments and Supreme Court rulings, could persuade white southerners to surrender the foundational principle that underpinned their society and their way of life since the 1600s. Hebért adds to our understanding of this small corner of Appalachia and the role of geography in American history. More important, he reminds us of the enduring power of racial ideology to shape American identity and collective memory. [End Page 175]