The Wars of Reconstruction: The Brief, Violent History of America’s Most Progressive Era

Douglas R. Egerton. Bloomsbury, $30 (448p) ISBN 978-1-60819-566-4
In this challenging history of America’s first age of “progressive reform,” Egerton, a professor of history at Le Moyne College, argues that the era of Reconstruction constituted the “most democratic” decades of the 19th century. Following the wartime contributions of African-American soldiers who “learned to march and read at the same time,” came demands for suffrage and equality. The result is a chaotic nation reshaped by political activism, land reclamation, the reuniting of freed families, the creation of new unions and banking institutions, and, especially, the establishment of educational opportunities for African-Americans—a community that “everywhere emphasized cooperation” in the post-bellum period. These triumphs and the subsequent setbacks under Andrew Johnson’s watch, followed by a “spike in white vigilantism” and local “political assassinations,” are captured vividly through extensive use of primary source material. Key figures develop into rich characters, balancing Egerton’s own objective, wide-seeing perspective, which even explores the revisionist Reconstruction histories that informed the American consciousness, particularly the pernicious effects of influential racist cinema. All told, Egerton’s study is an adept exploration of a past era of monumental relevance to the present and is recommended for any student of political conflict, social upheaval, and the perennial struggle against oppression. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 11/11/2013
Release date: 01/21/2014
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