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  • Uncivil War: Five New Orleans Street Battles and the Rise and Fall of Radical Reconstruction
  • Joseph G. Dawson III
Uncivil War: Five New Orleans Street Battles and the Rise and Fall of Radical Reconstruction. By James K. Hogue . Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-8071-3147-4. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xii, 227. $45.00.

In this stimulating book, James K. Hogue aims "to see beyond the myths that continue to obscure" the U.S. Army's involvement in Reconstruction (p. xi). He concludes that the army's complex roles in Reconstruction produced negative results for the army itself, the South, and President Ulysses S. Grant's policies. Hogue's fresh approach also compares the army in Louisiana with military actions in Europe and Latin America (pp. 176–79), borrowing such terms as "coup" and "putsch" (pp. 133, 137, 141, 142) to label events in Louisiana.

Furthermore, Hogue investigates "the problem of war and politics" (p. xi), studying the connections between Confederate service and Reconstruction violence. He carefully analyzes Louisiana's violent paramilitary White Leagues. By demonstrating that many League leaders and members were ex-Confederates (Appendices 1, 2, 3), Hogue persuasively traces the "roots of Reconstruction violence" (p. xi) to Confederate veterans.

Hogue contends that other historians are uncertain about defining their terms, but his definitions also lack clarity. He explains that the army was a "constabulary" (p. 10) during Reconstruction, noting that James E. Sefton and others failed to attach that term to the army's actions. Yet Hogue does not define how the army fulfilled that "constabulary" assignment. Defining "war" has occupied battalions of historians since Herodotus. Hogue adjusts the term, employing "uncivil war" (title, pp. 2, 3, 113, passim) to refer to postwar violence, sometimes replacing it with "civil war" (pp. 3, 113, and passim). He uses the phrase "street battles" for the bloody encounters between Louisiana's legal authorities and ex-Confederates. Acknowledging that historians have difficulty defining "battle" (pp. 3, 4, 113), Hogue concedes that "none of these street battles would likely qualify for inclusion on a traditional military historian's list of 'great battles,'" (pp. 3–4) and that none of the "battles" he describes involved U.S. Army soldiers.

Sometimes Hogue appears to adopt terms that ex-Confederates applied to the South's Republican governments. He uses phrases such as "military rule" (pp. 45, 54, 61), "military dictatorship" (pp. 53, 55, 58, 65), "bayonet rule" (p. 180) for government administrators. He lends credibility to Democratic pretenders to office by capitalizing their titles, such as "Acting Governor" (p. 141), and calculates that ex-Confederates established credibility by gaining the support of a majority of whites. This appears to overlook that [End Page 1250] the majority of Louisiana's voting population combined blacks with white Unionists.

Hogue is sure-footed in describing Louisiana's complicated politics, no easy accomplishment, but he appears to echo a Democratic contention that the army was supposedly "exclusively identified with the domestic political interests of one party" (p. 183)—the Republicans. He fails to recall generals like Lovell H. Rousseau (treated briefly, pp. 67-68) and Winfield S. Hancock, whom he neglects completely. Starting in 1868 Hancock sought the presidency, receiving the Democratic presidential nomination in 1880.

According to Hogue, President Grant deployed the army too often in Louisiana politics (p. 90). This conclusion begs questions. Could Grant, or any president, allow armed thugs to overthrow an elected state government? If Democrats dissatisfied with Louisiana's elections were allowed to employ force to topple a state government (pp. 100, 163), would the national government succumb to Democratic threats to reverse a presidential election? Hogue comes close to addressing these issues (pp. 137, 142, 169) but backs away, writing that it was "difficult to characterize" the ex-Confederates' political violence in Louisiana, in 1876, for example (p. 163). Discussing violence in 1873 and 1876 Hogue misses opportunities to refer to informative dissertations by Joel Sipress and Frank Wetta. Hogue's book continues the lively historical debates over the army's roles in Reconstruction politics.

Joseph G. Dawson III
Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas


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pp. 1250-1251
Launched on MUSE
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Archived 2010
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