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Journal of Social History 39.4 (2006) 1244-1247

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Bitter Fruits of Bondage: The Demise of Slavery and the Collapse of the Confederacy, 1861-1865. By Armstead L. Robinson (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2005. vii plus 352 pp. $34.95).

Toward the end of November 1863, four months after the twin disasters of Vicksburg and Gettysburg, Confederate forces led by General Braxton Bragg followed up a bloody victory at Chickamauga by laying siege to William Rosecran's Army of the Cumberland in Chattanooga. Ulysses S. Grant rode to the rescue. He removed Rosecrans and rallied troops for an offensive to uncork the bottle. The Chattanooga campaign turned in the center of Bragg's stretched lines with a daring thrust that surpassed in effectiveness even Grant's own sizeable expectations. Missionary Ridge extends for several miles south of the Tennessee River, overlooking Chattanooga at more than 500 feet. Union soldiers seized the Confederate rifle pits at the base of the ridge with relative ease and to the amazement of Grant and his staff, the bluecoats scrambled up the rugged escarpment in a mad dash to the summit. The entrenched defenders at various levels, instead of mowing down the opposition like ducks in a barrel, broke rank and fled, leaving weapons and comrades behind. Bragg suffered an ignominious defeat, and with it, the gateway to Atlanta swung wide open for William Tecumseh Sherman.

Bragg reported on the debacle by labeling the Confederate performance at Missionary Ridge a disgrace, "a panic which I had never before witnessed seemed to have seized upon officers and men, and each seemed to be struggling for his personal safety, regardless of his duty or his character" (p. 268). When subsequently told that Confederate officers had thought their position on Missionary Ridge was impregnable, Grant himself retorted, "Well, it was impregnable."1 To the mystery of Confederate incapacity at Missionary Ridge, Armstead Robinson offers a compelling explanation, which, in effect, forms the d´┐Żnouement to his engrossing analysis of why the Confederacy lost the War between the States. Robinson identified many of the soldiers who occupied fortified positions [End Page 1244] up and down the ridge as disgruntled yeomen and parolees from the Vicksburg campaign, pressed into service before an official exchange had occurred. Thus, if captured again by Billy Yank, they faced the death penalty. Indeed, General Patton Anderson, commander of the division that collapsed under pressure, bitterly acknowledged in retrospect the existence of serious discord within his ranks. For Robinson, the long festering problems that surfaced in this emblematic battle necessitate a rewriting of the Confederacy's epitaph. In the final analysis, instead of "'Died of States Rights,' or 'Died of a Theory,' or 'Died of Democracy,' or 'Died of an Imbalance of Resources,'" the Confederacy "'Died of Class Conflict'" (p. 283).

Robinson began this study as a dissertation under the auspices of Eugene Genovese more than a quarter century ago. Hired by the University of Virginia, Robinson founded the Carter G. Woodson Institute for Afro-American and African Studies and directed it until 1995, when a fatal brain aneurysm cut short a promising career. His widely-read dissertation, extended by essays and lectures, had whetted the appetite of more than a professional audience for the book, and speculation about its appearance became something of a phenomenon at gatherings of American historians. Robinson's widow turned over her husband's archive, which included a 1200-page manuscript, to the University of Virginia Press. With the help of Robinson's friends in the academy, Jeannette Hopkins, an editorial wizard and former director of Wesleyan University Press, transformed Robinson's unfinished product into a polished monograph of ten chapters that stands as a most significant and original contribution to the voluminous literature about the seminal event in the making of this nation.

Bitter Fruits of Bondage focuses attention westward, away from Robert E. Lee and the Virginia theater, to the conduct of the war during its first three years in the Confederate states connected by the Mississippi...


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