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  • Reconstructing Appalachia: The Civil War's Aftermath
  • Stephanie M. Lang
Reconstructing Appalachia: The Civil War's Aftermath. Edited by Andrew L. Slap. (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2010. Pp. 379.)

The decades following the Civil War in Appalachia were marked by a series of struggles that created change and motion in the mountains, placing the region on an accelerated path toward industrial development. However, Reconstruction in Appalachia is often overshadowed by studies of the Civil War or the large-scale industrialization of the region at the end of the nineteenth century. In this well-edited volume, the contributors cast much needed light on the shadowy period of Reconstruction, tackling issues ranging from political disputes and the reconciliation of sectional loyalties to violence and the preservation of the Civil War memory in Appalachia.

These issues are examined in detail amidst the backdrop of the destructive Civil War, the developing myth of Appalachia, and industrialization. The war destroyed transportation and commerce lines which directly impacted the troubled mountain agricultural economy, ruined financial investments, created intense political animosities, and severely altered the functioning ability of churches, local government, and schools. In turn, the articles view these developments through the different lenses of politics, violence, religion, and historical memory, and reveal an area struggling with the rebuilding of one identity in the midst of the creation of another.

Confederate surrender did not guarantee an end to conflict, which continued to bubble over into political and physical confrontations. In direct contradiction to the myth of a politically unified Appalachia, sectional loyalties caused heated political battles which placed leaders from both parties in a losing battle with increasingly powerful industrialists. Following the "New South" idea of modernization and industrialization, the importance of development often undercut partisan divisions during Reconstruction. As Randall Gooden and Ken Fones-Wolf demonstrate, economic issues surrounding industrialization permeate the political landscape generating divisions in both the Republican and Democratic parties. This forced both sides to compromise on certain issues within their own ranks, while also [End Page 91] creating coalitions based upon common causes such as economic growth and stability. These political divisions in a region painted as staunchly Union, according to Ann Marshall, continue to create present-day tensions in the construction of memory and the adherence to the "Lost Cause" myth in some mountain communities.

While kinship ties remained intact, efforts at reconciliation and community collaboration did little to quell violent disputes. Scholars Paul Yandle and Keith Hebert argue that Klan violence in mountain communities was not sparked solely by racial issues but became a political tool used against the Republican Party and federal interference. In one example, localism overshadowed racism and provided the motivating factor in a series of Klan attacks in Georgia as local residents lashed out against a prolonged federal presence and new liquor tax. T. R. C. Hutton's work illustrates both a reaction to the disruptive changes wrought by industrialization and how the label of "feud" was used to obscure the political implications of death and destruction in the mountains (90). This painted the region as uncivilized rather than acknowledging the role of outside forces in dismantling social and political structures—similar issues faced in other areas of the South.

Overall, the collection provides a well-constructed and much-needed historiographical connection between the Civil War era and the industrialization of Appalachia. The articles in this volume do not portray a uniform assessment of the mountains, allowing the complexities of the region to come to the forefront. The questions raised by this collection will allow scholars to broaden their understanding of larger Appalachian themes, including the prominence of land, environment, and family as well as issues of sustainability, poverty, and economic development. The new conversations which will surely be sparked by this collection will not only aid in understanding the effects of Reconstruction but provide fertile ground for future conversations and offer new areas of exploration in Appalachian history. [End Page 92]

Stephanie M. Lang
University of Kentucky


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