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The Bloody Shirt: Terror After the Civil War Paperback – December 30, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Budiansky has clearly done his research on this interesting and largely unknown history of the American South, detailing the origins of America's largest homegrown terrorist sect, the Ku Klux Klan. While the tales are often disturbing and naturally disquieting, they are important stories of real men that have waited decades to be told. Phil Gigante does his very best to insure they are given the appropriate respect they deserve. He offers a solid, unwavering reading that captures the raw brutality and extreme melancholy of the period of the South's reconstruction (1865–1876). Gigante's spellbinding narration is careful never to sound too sympathetic or editorialize, but presents the author's material in an unbiased and dispassionate voice, allowing the truth within to speak for itself.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
If Profiles in Courage had not already been taken, it would have made the perfect title for this linked set of portraits honoring five men who risked everything to fight for the principles that had cost so many lives.
The New York Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
The Bloody Shirt is not a straightforward history of the era but rather follows the lives and careers of several people involved in this insurgency. Through these people's stories we gain an understanding of the wider insurgency and the mistakes made by the Union which allowed the Confederacy to overturn the gains won in the Civil War and continue on their way of life.
The book focuses on people like; Albert Morgan, who was assigned as a soldier to police the Reconstruction South and later became a state senator from Mississippi, Lewis Merrill who commanded troops in reconstruction South Carolina, Adelbert Ames, also a soldier, who became the appointed governor of Mississippi, and Prince Rivers, a former slave who fought for the Union and became a county magistrate in South Carolina. Also making an appearance is General James Longstreet, the brilliant Confederate commander who later became a Republican and advocated the Union cause.
These men confront the enormously difficult challenge of trying to change a hostile culture. This culture, which could not bring itself to admit wrongdoing or guilt in any of its activities, resisted the attempt to enfranchise the black population with the rights of citizenship granted to them under the 14th 15th and 16th amendments to the Constitution.
What is lost to most modern Americans is the fact that this was truly a violent insurgency. Over 3000 people were killed after the United States raised the "Mission Accomplished" banner at Appomattox. Any black who attempted to assert their citizenship or white Republican who sought to enforce the law was a target. Arrayed against them were wide variety of terroristic paramilitary groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, who killed elected legislators, executives, newspaper people and ordinary men and women. They stole elections by the grossest and basest means possible and did not even try to hide the fact. They shot and hung people with abandon, and openly threatened the rest.
The descriptions of the activities of these terror groups shocks the conscience.
All the while, the heroic figures charged with rebuilding the culture had neither enough men, arms or authority to accomplish their mission. After four years of civil war, popular support for the reconstruction effort dwindled precipitously. The people of the United States were tired and they wanted it to be *over.* They wanted things to go back to *normal.*
Does any of this sound familiar?
Tragically instead of doubling down and developing new strategies to enforce cultural change in the American South and allocating the proper amount of resources needed for the task - the Union eventually withdrew, leaving the people left behind, blacks and white Republicans, to their own devices. They did not last long. The long night of despotism continued into the 20th century, up until the 1950s and 60s.
Of particular interest is the fact that Budiansky notes that the Confederacy not only won the insurgency in the South but completely rewrote the history of the Civil War and Reconstruction. The one thing the Southerners could not accept was that their culture had been fatally flawed. This is a common trait of pre-modern cultures and is well exemplified in a letter written by General Longstreet to the New Orleans Times that got him in hot water with his compatriots and generally considered a traitor to his tribe for 100 years:
He began by saying he was speaking with the plain and honest convictions of a soldier he said that as he thought, the South had fought, and fought well, but had lost; they were a conquered people. It was accordingly their duty to accept the terms of the victor. Even if they were in a position to resist, it would be wrong to do so. He himself had lost his rights of citizenship under the Reconstruction acts, as someone who had sworn an oath of allegiance to the union and then engaged in rebellion, "but that was one of the hazards of revolution, and I have no better cause of complaint and those who have lost their slaves." To claim now that Southerners need not concede anything to the victor was tantamount to claiming they had not known what they were fighting for in the first place. He hoped he might be forgiven the "bluntness of the soldier" to remind his fellow Southerners what had been decided at Appomattox. "The surrender of the Confederate armies in 1865," he wrote, "involved; 1. the surrender of the claim to the right of secession. 2. the surrender of the former political relations of the Negro. 3. the surrender of the Southern Confederacy. These issues expired upon the fields last occupied by the Confederate armies and there tthey should have been buried. The soldier prefers to have the sod that receives him when he falls cover his remains. The political questions of the war should have been buried upon the fields that marked their end."
In this, Longstreet was remarkable man for his time and culture. And it points out an interesting question. Why is it that modern cultures promote the concept of settlement? The feelings prevalent in the Confederate culture are the norm for humanity. All pre-modern cultures do not privilege settlement. Meaning that there is never a settlement to any particular issue - there is only a standing status quo. And the status quo will hold until the correlation of forces shifts and privileges another party. In the pre-modern world, the negotiation is never over. Once a position has been reached, it is merely a stepping off point for the next round of negotiations. But in the modern culture, the Enlightenment-based cultures, high-priority is given to final settlement of contentious issues. How is it that we have evolved this trait?