Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Booknotes: Rebel Richmond

New Arrival:
Rebel Richmond: Life and Death in the Confederate Capital by Stephen V. Ash (UNC Press, 2019).

City studies of Confederate Richmond have been around for a long time, and most readers have some notion of the drastic changes (many of them unwanted) that secession, Civil War, and its position as the new Confederate capital brought to the city.

From the description: "In the spring of 1861, Richmond, Virginia, suddenly became the capital city, military headquarters, and industrial engine of a new nation fighting for its existence. A remarkable drama unfolded in the months that followed. The city's population exploded, its economy was deranged, and its government and citizenry clashed desperately over resources to meet daily needs while a mighty enemy army laid siege. Journalists, officials, and everyday residents recorded these events in great detail, and the Confederacy's foes and friends watched closely from across the continent and around the world."

While prior city studies focused mostly on politics, military events, and the lifestyles and observations of the Richmond elite, Stephen Ash's Rebel Richmond: Life and Death in the Confederate Capital joins the new breed of Civil War urban scholarship by directing attention toward all segments of Richmond society. Given that life and death are accorded equal billing in the volume's title, one assumes a great deal of attention with be paid to the darker aspects of what life was like in the new Confederacy's overcrowded capital. 

Ash's study "vividly evokes life in Richmond as war consumed the Confederate capital. He guides readers from the city's alleys, homes, and shops to its churches, factories, and halls of power, uncovering the intimate daily drama of a city transformed and ultimately destroyed by war. Drawing on the stories and experiences of civilians and soldiers, slaves and masters, refugees and prisoners, merchants and laborers, preachers and prostitutes, the sick and the wounded, Ash delivers a captivating new narrative of the Civil War's impact on a city and its people."

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