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Trial by Fire: A People's History of the…

Trial by Fire: A People's History of the Civil War and Reconstruction

by Page Smith

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2649 Trial by Fire: A People's History of the Civil War and Reconstruction Volume Five, by Page Smith (read 25 Sep 1994) This volume tells the story of the Civil War, not getting bogged down in military intricacies (in this an improvement over his volumes on the Revolution, where I thought he paid too much attention to minutiae of battles), and of Reconstruction. He makes plain the Civil War had to be to end slavery, and how close the country came to not doing the war right. (Gettysburg, Vicksburg had been forgotten by August 1964 and timely Union victories thereafter assured Lincoln's re-election in Nov. 1864.) Smith is also right on Reconstruction--it played a role in the eventual realization, 100 years later, of civil rights for blacks. ( )
  Schmerguls | Apr 3, 2008 |
Page Smith gently but irrefragably puts to rest the racist antebellum Reconstruction myth lately taught to me from Texan schoolbooks to the effect that a radical Republican Congress was trying to punish the poor defeated Confederacy after the War for "State's Rights". But for President Grant and the Republicans, Andrew Johnson and the obstinate Southern politicians would have returned the freed slaves to vassalage.

The War was fought over Slavery -- all other issues were manipulations and spin. The South never had a serious commitment to individual rights, and the North never contested that ground. Even Secession was an option that could be discussed without resort to arms.

The rich planters were fighting for their "black harems" -- in the words of the wife of one of the South's finest Generals. This was a War over unrestricted sexual access to black women and labor theft from "colored" people by white men.

Harvard-educated Smith, a professional historian, made use of first person accounts, and not just the institutional records. Focus is on the lives of the people, with detailed portraits of the leaders on both sides.

Smith shares his conclusion that the War was inevitable, and why. He explains the strategies, and describes the battles. He is remarkable for the evidence he gathers -- it is primary, and often at odds with prevailing myth. For example, most of the material he presents about the soldier and President Grant shows him in an entirely different light than his reputation. We now understand why men and women of compassion and experience regarded him as such a friend [for example Mark Twain, and even Robert E. Lee's family]. Page quotes Grant in admitting his lack of moral courage for not resigning his commission rather than joining in the War against Mexico -- a conflict he knew to be unjust and which he despised. [153]. ( )
2 vote keylawk | Oct 9, 2007 |
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The fifth volume of his multi-volume history of the United States from 1861 to 1874.

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