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Showdown in Virginia: The 1861 Convention and the Fate of the Union Paperback – March 29, 2010
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Showdown in Virginia will make accessible to a much broader audience than before perhaps the most important body of primary source material about the breakup of the Upper South in 1861. These were the final months of what would later be called the antebellum era, and it is in looking at the proceedings from that perspective―of being on the eve of a great national calamity without knowing what shape it would take―that gives them immense poignancy. By examining the words of the Convention, the modern reader can glimpse the uncertainty, anxiety, and hope that Virginians felt in the spring of 1861.(Nelson D. Lankford author of Cry Havoc! The Crooked Road to Civil War, 1861 and editor of the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography)
In early 1861 Virginia rejected secession and tried to promote peaceful reunion, but the state reversed itself in mid-April. Showdown in Virginia, expertly edited by Bill Freehling and Craig Simpson, provides a ringside seat as the Old Dominion wrestled with its tragic dilemma and finally sided with the Southern Confederacy. At long last, historians and their students will have easy access to this indispensable source.(Daniel W. Crofts, The College of New Jersey author of Reluctant Confederates: Upper South Unionists in the Secession Crisis)
[A] great read. Historians William W. Freehling and Craig M. Simpson researched the four volumes of official convention records from the 1861 meeting as well as newspaper stories to create a 200-page account of the two-month battle between the unionists and secessionists. There is magnificent oratory, fiery debates, intrigue, a near duel and the abrupt walkout by delegates from the northwestern counties.(WashingtonPost.com)
About the Author
William W. Freehling is a Senior Fellow with the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and author of Prelude to the Civil War, The Road to Disunion, and The South vs. The South. Craig M. Simpson is Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Western Ontario and author of A Good Southerner: The Life of Henry A. Wise of Virginia. Freehling and Simpson coedited Secession Debated: Georgia’s Showdown in 1860.
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Top Customer Reviews
Virginia however, absolutely deserves independent coverage for several reasons. Not only was it the largest slaveholding state in terms of free population, but its 490,865 slaves also gave it the largest enslaved population (although mush less than some of the deeper south slave states in terms of a free to enslaved ratio). It also was a massive industrial, agricultural and intellectual center.Read more ›
Most readers will be disabused of some of their beliefs about secession, the role of slavery and of Lincoln's call for troops after Fort Sumter, and the reasons for the eventual split between Western and Eastern Virginia - no matter what those beliefs may be. Many speakers argued, for example, that the Deep South was attempting to enlist the border states as a buffer to protect the slaves of South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, et al; those speakers further maintained that secession would actually result in more slaves running away from Virginia and other border states because federal laws requiring the return of runaways would not apply to seceded states. It would, in effect, "put a Canada" on their very doorstep.
Because of the topics debated here, those who have more interest in the larger issue of Southern secession than in Virginia (and West Virginia) specifically, this book is a very good window into the concerns of the border states. Some speakers also discuss South Carolina's views on the tensions between North and South and what the Confederacy should be. This book is highly recommended for those who do not have the time, access or inclination to pour through multi-volume works on Virginia's secession debates.
If you enjoyed the thoroughly marvelous book on GeorgiaSecession Debated: Georgia's Showdown in 1860 this is the perfect companion. Let's say you are a purist--you don't like reading just the meat of a speech. You have two choices in studying the Virginia Secession Debates: read the 4 volumes edited by George H. Reese, about 4,000 pages and the stenographic recordings in the Richmond Enquirer of the convention speeches (cumbersome to carry with you) or this book.
In all honesty I feel obliged to admit, if you have't guessed it, Bill and Craig are friends, and I am very prejudiced in their favor. My relations in no way detract from the book's value. Both scholars are experts in their field and work well together.