Friday, April 5, 2019

Booknotes: Raising the White Flag

New Arrival:
Raising the White Flag: How Surrender Defined the American Civil War by David Silkenat (UNC Press, 2019).

I've been looking forward to getting my hands on David Silkenat's Raising the White Flag: How Surrender Defined the American Civil War ever since I first saw the title pop up. For all the bombastic rhetoric produced regarding never giving up or raising the black flag, surrender was certainly one of the war's most common experiences. "(B)oth Union and Confederate forces surrendered en masse on scores of ... occasions. Indeed, roughly one out of every four soldiers surrendered at some point during the conflict. In no other American war did surrender happen so frequently." Not intended to be an exhaustive register of every major surrender that took place during the conflict, the book more interestingly looks to "explain how Civil War era Americans understood surrender and how their attitudes evolved over the course of the conflict." (pg. 4)

Silkenat's Raising the White Flag "provides the first comprehensive study of Civil War surrender, focusing on the conflicting social, political, and cultural meanings of the action. Looking at the conflict from the perspective of men who surrendered, Silkenat creates new avenues to understand prisoners of war, fighting by Confederate guerillas, the role of southern Unionists, and the experiences of African American soldiers. The experience of surrender also sheds valuable light on the culture of honor, the experience of combat, and the laws of war."

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