Bynum: The Long Shadow of the Civil War (2010)

Bynum: The Long Shadow of the Civil War (2010)

The Civil War Monitor: A New Look at America’s Greatest Conflict

Laura Hepp Bradshaw
Carnegie Mellon University

The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies by Victoria E. Bynum. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010. Cloth, ISBN: 0807833819.

“Few histories,” Victoria Bynum laments, “are buried faster or deeper than those of political or social dissenters” (148). By resurrecting the histories of three anti-secessionist communities in the South, Bynum’s latest book about the Civil War home front and post-war aftermath brings previously ignored strains of political and social dissent back to life through an intricate examination of the period rooted in race, gender, and class politics. Ultimately guided by three central questions designed to probe the prevalence of Unionism among southerners during the war, the effects of Union victory on freedpeople and southern Unionists, and the Civil War’s broader legacies, Bynum finds answers in the Piedmont of North Carolina, the Piney Woods of Mississippi, and the Big Thicket of Hardin County, Texas. These regions, though miles apart, are united in Bynum’s analysis by kinship and the political alliances of non-slaveholding, yeoman farming families…

…These home front battles, Bynum tells us, had a lasting effect on the political and social clime of the Reconstruction era, and beyond.  When Republican Reconstruction ended and Jim Crow Reconstruction segregated the South, former southern Unionists like Jasper and Warren Collins of the Big Thicket region rejected the two-party political system in favor of alternative platforms such the Populists or Socialists, in addition to the predominant southern religions.  Newt Knight and his descendants struggled against the rising tide of white supremacy that sought to divide white, black, and Native American demographics by living openly as a multi-racial community.  Furthermore, Bynum highlights the challenges faced by women in the Reconstruction period, as Jim Crow also regulated sexual mores and relations between both the sexes and races.

Thematically, the book harnesses examples of gender, class, and race on the wartime home front and in the post-war period. Yet, even though a vast portion of the book is devoted to discussing the anti-secessionist personalities of Newt Knight, Jasper and Warren Collins, and to a lesser extent, Bill Owens, an explicit examination their gender is curiously overlooked. Bynum mentions that “southern Unionists, Populists, and Socialists” were portrayed as “cowards and traitors,” but she fails to examine the implications of those labels within the broader context of southern masculinity (114). That said, Bynum’s sophisticated, multi-layered analysis of class relations, especially during the Civil War, more than make up for this shortcoming. She thoroughly illustrates a web of complex, inter-community class tensions that linked the conscripted poor, men fortunate to wave Confederate service, and the home guard. Bynum successfully explicates the repercussions of a segregated South on people of mixed race descent who were forced to either claim their black identity, like Anna Knight, a descendant of Newt Knight, or to “pass” as white by relocating away from the communities of their birth and obscuring their ancestry, as many other Knight Company descendants were forced to do…

Read the entire review here.

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