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in a meeting with Frederick Douglass in 1847, the abolitionist John Brown pointed on a map to the “far-reaching Alleghenies” (a label applied to the Appalachians in general through much of the nineteenth century) and declared that “these mountains are the basis of my plan,” both as an escape route out of the South and as a base of operations from which attacks on the plantation South could be launched. Douglass quoted Brown as saying, “God has given the strength of the hills to freedom; they were placed here for the emancipation of the negro race; they are full of natural forts . . . [and] good hiding places, where large numbers of brave men could be concealed, baffle and elude pursuit for a long time.”1 When Brown finally enacted his attack on Harpers Ferry twelve years later, the highlands were still crucial to his aims. He hoped to move south through Virginia and the Carolinas, liberating the slaves of the plantation piedmont and sending them to a chain of fortresses established in the mountains to their west, from which they would hold their opponents at bay while reinforcements, black and white, gathered to form an army of liberation. “The mountains and swamps of the South,” Brown reiterated to a fellow conspirator a year before his 1859 raid on that northern Virginia arsenal, “were intended by the Almighty as a refuge for the slave and a defense against the oppressor.” Among his final words, while gazing upon the distant Blue Ridge Mountains as he moved across the Charleston jail yard toward the gallows, were simply, “This is a beautiful country.”2 Brown was not alone in attributing such redeeming qualities to this particular part of the South. in The Invention of Appalachia, cultural anthropologist Allen Batteau detected a trend beginning in the 1850s in which Six The Strength of the Hills” Representations of Appalachian Wilderness as Civil War Refuge J o H N C . i N S C o E “ 114 John C. inscoe “wild nature began to acquire a positive value as the heritage of the new nation,” and noted that Appalachia specifically first took on its image as “other” in contrast to modernizing and civilizing forces that were beginning to redefine the landscape and society of America’s eastern seaboard. For many urbanites, the idea of sustainable, even permanent wilderness was an appealing one, as were those perpetual “primitives” who inhabited such a region.3 At the same time, the ever intensifying sectional crisis offered yet another, more politically charged image of Appalachia—that of the sole area of the South not burdened, or cursed, with the sin of slavery . For many, it represented a bastion of liberty where, according to a later chronicler, “the hills, in their exquisite isolation became havens for the disenchanted black and white . . . who needed to escape burdensome drudgery and slavery.”4 in the early months of the Civil War, a Minnesota journalist picked up on these sentiments and suggested that the federal government embrace and utilize the support it enjoyed among those southerners residing in Appalachia. The reason, he maintained, was that “within this Switzerland of the South, Nature is at war with slavery.” Bondage, he implied, was incompatible with high altitudes: “Freedom has always loved the air of mountains. Slavery, like malaria, desolates the low alluvials of the globe.”5 others imposed these attributes upon the region in hindsight, as northerners after the war acknowledged the Union loyalty of many, if not most, southern highlanders. in an 1872 sermon, ohio minister William Goodrich was among those who continued to extol the virtues of the highland South. “Explain it as we may,” he preached, “there belongs to mountain regions a moral elevation of their own. They give birth to strong, free, pure and noble races. They lift the men who dwell among them, in thought and resolve. Slavery, falsehood, base compliance, luxury , belong to the plains. Freedom, truth, hardy sacrifice, simple honor, to the highlands.”6 During the war, the southern highlands came to serve as a safe haven for far more than escaped slaves. Yael Sternhell devotes much of her splendid new book, Routes of War: The World of Movement in the Confederate South, to the premise that “the Civil War transformed the South into a land of runaways,” as she explores “the social, political, and cultural consequences of the vast surges of mobility created by war.”7 While she covers the full range of such movement throughout the region as a...


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