Freehling, William W. The South Vs. the South: How Anti-Confederate Southerners Shaped the Course of the Civil War. : Oxford University Press, February 1, 2001.
List price $7.50. ISBN 0195130278.
Reviewed by Gary Smith, Department of History, University of Dundee
Posted 14 November 2005
When discussing an issue as complex and colourful as the Civil War, it is easy to generalise, to focus on main themes and paint broad strokes rather than be bogged down in the minutia. However, such a focus has helped to create a form of historical shorthand that makes it easy to misinterpret the course of the war. In The South vs. the South William Freehling seeks to address two of these common myths: that the conflict was one of northerners vs. southerners and that it involved slave states vs. free. By highlighting disunion in the southern states, Freehling’s work convincingly shows how the failure of all southerners to commit to the Confederate cause eventually led to its downfall. Where the work shines is in its discussion of the Border States, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri. As slave states within the Union their allegiance was crucial to the war effort, the prospect of their secession dictating Lincoln’s slave policy for the first years of war. Despite this, these states have been frustratingly underdeveloped by historians. This work helps to redress the balance by highlighting how, far from being a unified region, the border south, upper south and lower south all had their own distinct characters, and differing levels of attachment to the Confederate cause. The text also impresses by emphasising the role of southern blacks in the conflict. While the importance of black soldiers is recognised, Freehling also convincingly shows how the actions of slaves on the southern home front – whether flight, resistance, or disobedience – all contributed to the decline of slavery and the dissolution of traditional southern racial roles. Freehling’s writing style is entertaining and readable, with the straightforward narrative clearly presenting the author’s ideas. The book is also well illustrated with a large variety of photos, diagrams and maps. Perhaps the main criticism with the work is that for such a slim volume there is too much information. Freehling covers a huge variety of topics, from slavery to battles, to sectional allegiance, and while the information uncovered is always impressive it does give the work a slightly disjointed feel, ricocheting from one idea to the next. Despite this minor quibble, this is an impressive work, well-written and engaging, and providing new insights into a familiar area. With its focus on the overlooked Border States and the new insights offered, it would benefit any student of the Civil War
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