The Greatest Civil War Book

This article is praiseworthy because it mentions an excellent book by America’s greatest man of letters (one wonders how so illiterate a country today produced such giants then). However, it covers only half the book. Wilson had no illusions about Lincoln and Grant and what they were doing, but he didn’t love the South. He even has an entire chapter, “The Myth of the Old South,” where he discards the rosily distorted lens of the “Gone with the Wind” crowd with gusto.

Outside of a few grandees like Lee and Washington, the rural South was almost neolithic in its poverty-stricken lifestyle. He saw the South as being violent, racist, backwards, illiterate and permanently doomed to being a stagnant pool of ignorance. Nearly the entire hierarchy of the South–business, legal, judicial, administrative–was pro-slavery.

He also discusses at length the methods taken by the old ruling network to re-enslave the freed blacks by using chain gains–a practice that in some forms continues to this day. If Wilson was flawed, it was in his argument by comparison–nations are not organisms.