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In 1860 the American South was a vast, wealthy, imposing region where a small minority had amassed great political power and enormous fortunes through a system of forced labor. The South's large population of slaveless whites almost universally supported the basic interests of plantation owners, despite the huge wealth gap that separated them. By the end of 1865 these structures of wealth and power had been shattered. Millions of black people had gained their freedom, many poorer whites had ceased following their wealthy neighbors, and plantation owners were brought to their knees, losing not only their slaves but their political power, their worldview, their very way of life. This sea change was felt nationwide, as the balance of power in Congress, the judiciary, and the presidency shifted dramatically and lastingly toward the North, and the country embarked on a course toward equal rights.
Levine""captures the many-sided human drama of this story using a huge trove of diaries, letters, newspaper articles, government documents, and more. In "The Fall of the House of Dixie, " the true stakes of the Civil War become clearer than ever before, as slaves battle for their freedom in the face of brutal reprisals; Abraham Lincoln and his party turn what began as a limited war for the Union into a crusade against slavery by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation; poor southern whites grow increasingly disillusioned with fighting what they have come to see as the plantation owners' war; and the slave owners grow ever more desperate as their beloved social order is destroyed, not just by the Union Army, but also from within. When the smoke clears, not only Dixie but all of American society is changed forever.
Brilliantly argued and engrossing, "The Fall of the House of Dixie "is a sweeping account of the destruction of the old South during the Civil War, offering a fresh perspective on the most colossal struggle in our history and the new world it brought into being.
Praise for "The Fall of the House of Dixie"
"This is the Civil War as it is seldom seen. . . . A portrait of a country in transition . . . as vivid as any that has been written."--"The Boston Globe"
"An absorbing social history . . . For readers whose Civil War bibliography runs to standard works by Bruce Catton and James McPherson, Bruce] Levine's book offers fresh insights."--"The Wall Street Journal"
"More poignantly than any book before, "The Fall of the House of Dixie" shows how deeply intertwined the Confederacy was with slavery, and how the destruction of both made possible a 'second American revolution' as far-reaching as the first."--David W. Blight, author of "American Oracle"
"Splendidly colorful . . . Levine recounts this tale of Southern institutional rot with the ease and authority born of decades of study."--"Kirkus Reviews "(starred review)
"A deep, rich, and complex analysis of the period surrounding and including the American Civil War."--"Publishers Weekly "(starred review)
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-09-24
- Reviewer: Staff
In a deep, rich, and complex analysis of the period surrounding and including the American Civil War, University of Illinois historian Levine (Confederate Emancipation) compares the South to the House of Usher in Poe’s famous story: the prosperous and powerful South looked invincible, but it had a flaw that made its collapse slow but inevitable. The social structure and very nature of the South was torn down and transformed in a matter of years. While Levine gives some attention to military actions, he primarily concentrates on slavery and its relation to the conflict; on Lincoln’s attempt to avoid a “revolutionary, emancipationist” war, with the Emancipation Proclamation, in Levine’s view, more a matter of practicality than principle; on the complex decisions regarding the newly freed blacks and their role in the war; and on the increasing desperation of a disintegrating Southern society. With a quarter of the text given over to notes and works cited, it’s clear Levine has left no stone unturned to tell this story, and his argument is solid. For those interested in the social, political, and economic effects of the fall of slavery in America, this account is definitely enlightening. 16 pages of b&w photos. Agent: Dan Green and Simon Green, POM Inc. (Jan.)
Dixie's land no more
Few experiences are as exhilarating as watching a bully being brought to his knees. And if his former victims have had a hand in his collapse, it’s all the more delicious. That, in essence, is the scene Bruce Levine presents in The Fall of the House of Dixie as he traces the smug rise and ignominious fall of the Confederacy in America’s Civil War. Levine offers a fresh perspective on this oft-told story by relying heavily on personal letters, journals and diaries to reveal just how vile, self-serving and, ultimately, delusional the slaveholders were.
Brushing aside the notion that slavery was merely one of many issues over which the war was fought, Levine, a professor of history at the University of Illinois, shows that it was at the center of everything—the economy, culture, social relationships and worldview. While it was true that most Southerners didn’t own slaves, those most active in the push for secession did—and they were the ones who stood to gain the most if the war went their way. After describing the brutal conditions under which slaves lived, Levine then quotes a series of masters on how happy and contented their slaves are with their lot. “A fascinating quality of the human mind is its ability to hold firmly and simultaneously two contradictory ideas,” he observes wryly.
The dynamics of the war, even when the South seemed to be winning, made slavery increasingly untenable. Both sides needed their labor for military purposes, which gave blacks a certain leverage. With the men of the plantations away, it was more difficult to keep the slaves subdued and productive at home—and impossible to keep them from hearing the siren call of liberation, especially as Northern armies took control of the Mississippi and the vital port of New Orleans, and as General Sherman’s forces did their scorched-earth march from Atlanta to Savannah. Yet many slaveholders, instead of becoming gallantly self-sacrificing when the South needed them most, clung to their sense of entitlement, refusing to contribute war materials, pay higher taxes or allow their slaves to be used for the common good. Nobody was going to tell them what to do.