February 4, 2013 by Reader's Connection
In Glen Park, which at the time was an all-white section of Gary, in a bar where the white racism ran pretty deep, I first learned that our American Civil War didn’t have much to do with slavery. It had to do with cotton sales. And my informant wasn’t just saying that there were a variety of factors that led to the war: he was going out of his way to pooh-pooh slavery.
I’ve never encountered anything that blatant in a book, though different historians weigh things differently, and some historians felt that Ken Burns’s miniseries The Civil War put too much emphasis on the permanence of the union as the war’s central issue, ignoring the importance of slavery.
Bruce Levine’s The Fall of the House of Dixie : The Civil War and the Social Revolution That Transformed the South is a book you might enjoy, even if you’ve read all you want to read about Civil War battles and generals, because the battles here are just part of the ongoing saga of America’s relationship with slavery, which Levine puts dead center as the reason for the war.
So we hear from Ulysses S. Grant now and then, but we also hear from slaves and wealthy planters and white southern non-slaveholders who resent the war. We hear from abolitionists and from those who feel that it’s time for southerners to defend “the God given right to own the African.” Quite a few southerners joined the Union army, and we hear from a plantation mistress that these turncoats were ”people who can neither read or write & who never had a decent suit of clothes until they [the Yankees] gave it to them.”
There was a North and a South, of course, but Levine has provided a wonderful account of the country’s other fractures, and about the ways in which our attitudes toward slavery shifted and evolved.