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Saving Savannah: The City and the Civil War (Vintage Civil War Library) Paperback – November 3, 2009

3.8 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. MacArthur fellow and Bancroft Prize–winning historian Jones (Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow) combines comprehensive research and evocative prose in this study of a Southern city where complex rules of social and economic hierarchy blurred the lines between slavery and freedom well before the Civil War. The prosperous city and labor-intensive rice plantations depended as much on white workers, who tended to be fractious, as on black slaves. At the same time, some blacks, free before the war or emancipated by it, were determined to live on their own terms, economically, socially and, after 1865, politically. But the Civil War brought Northerners into the mix—soldiers, teachers, missionaries, businessmen—motivated by varying combinations of morality and enterprise. After the war, they colluded with Southern whites to keep blacks from attaining full self-determination through conflicts waged in streets and courtrooms, churches and schools and workplaces. Violence and chicanery sustained traditional forms of power, though that power now came through the ballot box and the jury box. With penetrating understanding Jones describes and analyzes the complex processes that impoverished black society but never succeeded in destroying it. 16 pages of photos, 5 maps. (Oct. 9)
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.

From Booklist

Antebellum Savannah was a bustling and diverse port city; its white population included aristocrats and poor workmen and an ethnic mix from all over western Europe. The African American population, appropriately one-half of the total population, included viciously exploited slaves and a small but surprisingly assertive group of “free people of color.” Professor Jones follows the changing conditions and struggles of Savannah’s African Americans from the 1850s to the end of the nineteenth century. She shows the schizophrenic nature of social conditions before the onset of the Civil War, as planters and merchants prospered while the enslaved population endured horrific working conditions, especially if they labored in the rice fields. Under Reconstruction, emancipated slaves sought, with some success, to advance economically and even politically by founding schools, forming self-help groups, and using churches as centers for activism. Predictably, their efforts were resisted by well-organized and determined white elites who didn’t shrink from using violence to maintain their power. This is an interesting and often uplifting chronicle of the hopes, successes, and failures of a determined community. --Jay Freeman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Civil War Library
  • Paperback: 546 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (November 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400078164
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400078165
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #249,583 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"Saving Savannah: The City and the Civil War" is an exhaustive study of the region around and in Savannah before, during and after the Civil War. It is an examination of the culture and the politics of a place, of which the Civil War occupies the shortest time period. Slavery in fact before the war and slavery de facto after the War are examined. The era of Reconstruction undid the promise of freedom through violence and offical power. A long historical study at over 500+ pages, "Saving Savannah" is a readable account of poverty, power and politics. As a similiar follow-up but based in Mississippi, the reader is referred to "Redemption" by Nicholas Lemann (2006).
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Format: Hardcover
As an avid nonfiction reader, I have been eagerly awaiting this book. I'll say from the outset that I can be quite critical of books, especially those that fail to keep me engaged. This will probably be the most positive review I have EVER written!
It's simple. Saving Savannah is brilliant. I can't remember the last time I read a book that was at once exciting and compelling and also deeply intelligent and thoughtful. The stories stand alone for their entertainment value - you'll get into it no matter who you are. The complex issues of race and politics really got me thinking, so I think this book will appeal to even the most discerning of intellectual readers. Personally, I devour books on the civil war; it's fascinating to read the individuals stories and think about the nuances. This really added something new to the story for me. And thats hard to do.
I felt compelled to write something because I so enjoyed this book. It might just change the way you think about the civil war, or slavery, or how communities rise and fall, or our nation on a broder level. I'd put this on a list of must-reads for american history.
It's very Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Better, in my opinion!
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Format: Paperback
Although purporting to tell the story of the city during the war, the book actually goes far beyond that both geographically, covering essentially the entire coast of Georgia, and temporally, by recounting the years from 1851 until about 1890.

The book begins with a fairly extensive survey of slavery in general and the rice culture in particular, on the eve of the Civil War, describes the effects of the war on Savannah, then addresses the post war struggle between whites and blacks for both political and economic power, which ultimately ended with newly freed slaves politically disenfranchised and economically disadvantaged until the 1960s.

The book was illuminating in a number of ways, first I had no idea that McIntosh County and the county seat, Darien, were black political strongholds until well into the 1890s. I also had no idea of the pre-War wealth of Liberty County. According to the 1850 census, Liberty was one of the wealthiest counties in Georgia. I was also fascinated to see so many familiar family names in the book. I grew up in Liberty County and went to middle and high school with kids named Walthour, Varnedoe, Jones and Gaulden, all family names that figure prominently in the book.

The book does have a few problems. First is lack of a coherent narrative. This is more of a writing style issue than anything else. While the author does a good job of laying out the facts, she is a bit short in synthesizing the overall narrative or story arc from them. This would have been a much better book had she started each chapter with a thesis or generalized summary, then used her facts and anecdotes to support the thesis or illustrate the summary. Of course the reader can do all this from himself, but it makes for a heavy slog of a read.
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Format: Paperback
We often see or hear about people who appear to be without conscience. Daily, we read in the news about persons who have criminalized their lives and wonder how they judge themselves human. Of course, the problem begins right there: These misguided destructionists do not consider their acts as evil, as immoral, as against either a natural or divine law. Many of these individuals are labeled criminally insane because "they know not what they do."

The diligently written but unforgettable book, Saving Savannah: The City and the Civil War, is about a misguided people who criminalized their very existence by brutalizing African American slaves right here in our own United States where "all men are created equal." The shackling irony of this immoral "in God we trust" behavior went wasted by a population that covered a huge territory, namely the residents of the counties of Georgia and the immediate environs of Savannah itself.

Believing that black Africans were not truly humans, the superior whites treated them much like they'd treat the horse, the donkey, or the mule used to tend their plantations. Since slave labor was cheap compared to labor in the industrialized North, plantation owners thrived. To ensure ongoing wealth, they taught their children, often by horrendous example, how to keep slaves disenfranchised and in their place.

In 1854, Savannah was dying because of an outbreak of yellow fever. Strangely enough, many blacks seemed immune to the mosquito carrying disease. Author Jacqueline Jones mentions that the very trait which made West African groups highly vulnerable to sickle-cell anemia seemed to protect these peoples from malaria and yellow fever.
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