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David Schenck and the Contours of Confederate Identity

Rodney, Steward

Publication Year: 2012

A mid-level Confederate official and lawyer in secessionist North Carolina, David Schenck (1835–1902) penned extensive diaries that have long been a wellspring of information for historians. In the midst of the secession crisis, Schenck overcame long-established social barriers and reshaped antebellum notions of manhood, religion, and respectability into the image of a Confederate nationalist. He helped found the revolutionary States’ Rights Party and relentlessly pursued his vision of an idealized Southern society even after the collapse of the Confederacy. In the first biography of this complicated figure, Rodney Steward opens a window into the heart and soul of the Confederate South’s burgeoning professional middle class and reveals the complex set of desires, aspirations, and motivations that inspired men like Schenck to cast for themselves a Confederate identity that would endure the trials of war, the hardship of Reconstruction, and the birth of a New South.
    After secession, Schenck remained on the home front as a receiver under the Act of Sequestration, enriching himself on the confiscated property of those he accused of disloyalty. After the war, his position as a leader in the Ku Klux Klan and his resistance to Radical Reconstruction policies won him a seat on the superior court bench, but scathing newspaper articles about his past upended a bid for chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, a compelling fall from grace that reveals much about the shifting currents in North Carolina society and politics in the years after Reconstruction. During the last twenty years of his life, spent in Greensboro, Schenck created the Guilford Battleground Company in an effort to redeem the honor of the Tar Heels who fought there and his own honor as well.
    Schenck’s life story provides a powerful new lens to examine and challenge widely held interpretations of secessionists, Confederate identity, Civil War economics, and home-front policies. Far more than a standard biography, this compelling volume challenges the historiography of the Confederacy at many levels and offers a sophisticated analysis of the evolution of a Confederate identity over a half century.

Rodney Steward is an assistant professor of history at the University of South Carolina, Salkehatchie. His works have appeared in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Encyclopedia of North Carolina, and North Carolina Historical Review.

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

My study of the life of David Schenck is the culmination of many years of hard work and personal sacrifice. Now that this book is completed, I can say with full confidence that the craft of biography is, at best, difficult. The challenge of coming to know an individual based entirely on his or her written record or the records kept by the society in which that individual circulated...

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pp. ix-xii

This book seeks to accomplish two main objectives. First, it serves to tell the story of North Carolinian David Schenck (1835–1902), whose extensive diaries have long been a wellspring of information for historians, yet whose biography has gone unwritten for far too long. Secondly, it uses Schenck’s diary, and a wide array of other sources, as a powerful new lens...

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Chapter 1. Coming of Age

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pp. 1-18

On the western edge of North Carolina’s Piedmont section, in the region sandwiched between the Catawba River and the Blue Ridge, lies a pristine, beckoning land. For centuries this handsome country with its rich soil and vast mineral deposits was the homeland of Cherokee and Catawba Indians. European settlement in the region remained sparse until the latter...

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Chapter 2. Secessionist Revolution

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pp. 19-42

W hen church bells in Lincolnton rang out at midnight on January 1, 1860, announcing the arrival of the New Year, the mood in the town was festive, as it was elsewhere in North Carolina and across the nation. Beneath the gaiety, however, Americans grew apprehensive about the future...

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Chapter 3. The Home Front

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pp. 43-66

W hen the State Convention disbanded in the spring of 1862, David Schenck returned home to Lincolnton. For a while he labored in the fields of his small farm on the outskirts of town, planting crops and building fences in preparation for what promised to be an uncertain economic future. By the end of summer, however, the District Court of North Carolina was ready to begin its work of tracking down enemy-owned property...

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Chapter 4. Reconstruction, 1865–1868

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pp. 67-84

On April 26, 1865, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston defied the orders of Jefferson Davis and surrendered the tattered remains of his army to Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman a few miles from Durham Station, North Carolina, near Raleigh. Federal troops remained for the rest of the year under the command of Gen. John M. Schofield, who was charged with keeping the peace and assisting in reconstituting the state government. One month...

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Chapter 5. Klansman, 1868–1874

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pp. 85-104

In November 1868 Schenck set out on the fall circuit. Although he and his Conservative friends had worked tirelessly to defeat the new state constitution, its passage and the subsequent changes made to the judicial system brought new prosperity to Schenck. Those attorneys licensed to practice law only in the county courts were effectively eliminated along with the county...

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Chapter 6. Esse Quam Videri, 1878–1902

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pp. 105-122

T he final two decades of David Schenck’s life were by no means quiet or uneventful. It was a period in his life during which he came to realize the limitations of the Southern society he loved and, in his own way, fought to preserve. Schenck reached the zenith of his career on the bench, but then fell short of attaining a loftier position on the state supreme court. He would...


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pp. 123-144


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pp. 145-156


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pp. 157-164

E-ISBN-13: 9781572338920
E-ISBN-10: 157233892X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572338548
Print-ISBN-10: 1572338547

Page Count: 184
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 795120250
MUSE Marc Record: Download for David Schenck and the Contours of Confederate Identity

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Subject Headings

  • Schenck, David, 1835-1902.
  • Lawyers -- North Carolina -- Biography.
  • North Carolina -- Politics and government -- 1861-1865.
  • North Carolina -- Politics and government -- 1865-1950.
  • Political culture -- North Carolina -- History -- 19th century.
  • North Carolina -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Social aspects.
  • North Carolina -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
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