Ashes of Glory: Richmond at War

Ernest B. Furgurson, Author Alfred A. Knopf $30 (419p) ISBN 978-0-679-42232-7
Following his definitive analysis in Chancellorsville 1863, Furgurson offers a splendid account of Richmond during the Civil War that proves that truth can indeed be stranger than fiction. Using archival sources and first-person published accounts, he tells the story of a city that between 1861 and 1865 epitomized the experience of the Civil War as a revolutionary one. Capital of a state that had long opposed secession, Richmond now became the symbol of Southern independence. It also remained a center of clandestine Unionism that hosted a struggle between espionage networks matching anything seen in Cold War Berlin. Industrial hub of an agrarian society, Richmond, Furgurson demonstrates, was a focal point for changing race relations as blacks became ever more essential to the city's economy, inspiring fear among whites. Self-defined embodiment of traditional Southern values, wartime Richmond attracted the Confederacy's ""new men"" (and women): profiteers, madams, refugees. Furgurson is particularly successful in presenting the erosion of conventional standards and the increasing randomness of everyday life for everyone from congressmen to prostitutes. With each passing month, it became more apparent in Richmond that, no matter what the war's outcome, things would never be as they had been. Furgurson's dramatic depiction of the spectrum of individual responses to that fact, from resignation to affirmation, makes this work comparable to Alfred Doblin's fictional chronicle of another city in the throes of change: Berlin Alexanderplatz. Photos and maps not seen by PW. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/02/1996
Release date: 09/01/1996
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