Empire and Liberty: The Civil War and the West

Edited by Virginia Scharff. Univ. of California, $34.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-520-28126-4
Scharff (Home Lands), a scholar of the American West at the University of New Mexico, collects 11 essays that cover the regions west of the Mississippi during the Civil War, the antebellum era, Reconstruction, and beyond. In what is arguably the most interesting essay, Jonathan Earle shows how the Civil War was foreshadowed by the intra-state hostilities of “bleeding Kansas” (1855–9), the scene of “guerilla-style, retributive, house-to-house warfare” between pro-slavery forces and abolitionists, ultimately led by John Brown. Yet as Adam Arenson shows, within a decade of the Civil War’s close, Manifest Destiny made the West a kind of “safety valve,” helping the country forget the war’s brutality and the divisiveness of Reconstruction. Maria Montoya addresses how certain ethnic groups in the Southwest were subject to peonage even after the passage of the 13th Amendment. Several essays deal with white violence against Native Americans during the Civil War, which, argues Durwood Ball, “escalated to a violent pitch unseen since the War of 1812.” Though it hardly covers military history, this is a wide-ranging, valuable addition to the literature on the American West that reveals the truly continental nature of one of America’s most defining struggles. Illus. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 02/23/2015
Release date: 04/01/2015
Genre: Nonfiction
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