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The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive… Thomas Jefferson


Another reviewer has already told us everything we need to know about this book and its author. This is a difficult book for a historian to review, because it is not clear what the appropriate standards should be. The author makes no secret of his goal: this is “a work of popular history”  This apparently encouraged some odd editorial choices.  So far as I can determine, Mr. Budiansky is a journalist who has published a dozen books with titles like The Character of Cats (2002) and If a Lion Could Talk (1999). Several are historical in nature, dealing mostly with military espionage, but none bear on the Civil War era. Unfortunately that reviewer did not go on to take issue with the material presented and show its lack of objectivity or even meeting the fundamental burdens of proof.


The first question that has to be asked is who terrorized whom. Democratically elected governments were replaced by officers of the occupying force who then oversaw the election of governments where large portions of the population were denied the franchise. Taxes were increased up to fourteen fold in some states to support the social agenda of the occupying force as expressed by their puppet governments. There was no law or order in the rural parts of the states under occupation and no attempt was made to protect the citizens. The men who formed the Southern resistance from 1865 to 1877 built upon the first principle that whenever any form of government becomes destructive… it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it.


From the Sicarii in the first century A. D. to the Carbonari in the nineteenth century, from the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine fighting the Soviets immediately after the 1917 Revolution to the Solidarity Movement helping to drive them out of Eastern Europe in the 1980’s there have always been resistance movements. During World War II the resistance to the Axis powers became so widespread that it garnered an almost heroic status so the question becomes what is the difference between Zydowski Zwiazek Walki and the Knights of the White Camellia? Simply put it is a question of who won. Giuseppe Garibaldi and Josip Broz [Tito] will forever get better press than Wade Hampton without regard to any objective criteria simply because they were on the winning side.


Budiansky is a journalist. He has to keep a wet finger in the air to continue to earn his crust and has neither the knowledge to produce a useful and original study of a problem based on objective evidence nor, apparently, the desire to. This book is almost totally useless – its only real purpose is to serve as an object lesson of how not to do something – and the subject matter screams for capable and competent scholarship to fill a gaping void in American history. The Constitution is a great guarantor of dissent and nobody wants an organization like the Klan but in order to avoid it you need a good understanding of its causes.

The bloody shirt: terror after Appomattox New York: Viking, c 2008      Stephen Budiansky Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. 322 p., [4] leaves of plates: ill.; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [283]-322) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG  


Between 1867, when the defeated South was forced to establish new state governments subject to northern military supervision, and 1877, when the last of these governments was overthrown, the author estimates that more than three thousand former slaves and their white carpetbagger allies were killed by acts of political resistance. That resistance was spread by irregulars connected by ideology and found support in widely read newspapers and pamphlets.

Under the sustained supervision of the most corrupt political administration of the century – that of Ulysses S. Grant – Republican political operatives struggled to establish a “New South” in which former slaves would exchange their new rights for a pittance and a new prosperity would be a reward for political supporters. It would have made the patronage planners of Andrew Jackson’s administration blush at its level and scale of plunder.


In his narrative of the era of military occupation now known as Reconstruction, Budiansky has chosen the lives of five men — two union officers, a Confederate general, a Northern entrepreneur, and a former slave — whose venality in the face of overwhelming suffering would not be matched for over a century and a half.


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