Secession Winter is a product of the distinguished Marcus Cunliffe Lecture Series, Jarod Roll, editor. The Marcus Cunliffe Centre for the Study of the American South in Great Britain hosts an annual lecture series, drawing prominent scholars in the field of the American South. It appears that the British continue to be interested in the Confederacy even after all of these years. The contributors to this volume are all history professors and published authors in the field, Cook at the University of Sussex, Barney at the University of North Carolina, and Varon at the University of Virginia. As one might expect, Secession Winter is a rather heady analysis of the winter (into spring) leading up to Fort Sumter. Language employed by the authors will be more familiar to those who hang out in the ivory tower than to those who meet for reenactment events on weekends.
Dr. Cook’s essay, “Rush to Disaster,” points out the obvious--that by advocating for secession, Southern fire-eaters killed off their slave-based society in a war the South was unlikely to (and did not) win. This paradox was a “revenge” of sorts for the slaves. The author points out that deep-down, Southerners were squeamish about the peculiar institution, even though many would never admit it and some may not have even consciously realized it. It was obvious to whites, however, that those enslaved hoped and yearned to be free. An analysis of how religious leaders in the South handled the slavery issue is provided.
Dr. Varon of the University of Virginia explore’s Robert E. Lee’s decision to resign from the U.S. Army and take up arms for Virginia (and soon thereafter, the Confederacy). The essay goes into the Old Dominion’s status as early political leader among the states (many of our early presidents were Virginians), and the resulting fact that Virginians viewed their state’s leadership as their inheritance and responsibility. Lee was not a fan of secession, hoping to the last that Virginia would not join the cotton states. But Fort Sumter and President Lincoln’s response asking the states for troops to put down the rebellion, forced Lee’s hand.
Dr. Barney’s essay, “The Shadow of the Past,” notes how history, being past, is something we cannot live (although reenactors try). That said, we see it through a filter of our own experiences and beliefs. Modern-day adherents of the Confederacy see it one way, African Americans tend to see it another, although the historical events they are viewing are one and the same.
Secession Winter is thought-provoking and will be most appreciated by those Civil War fans with an intellectual bent.
Title: Secession Winter When the Union Fell Apart, a collection of essays
Authors: Robert J. Cook, William L. Barney, and Elizabeth R. Varon
Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press (410) 516-6936