Friday, September 11, 2020

Booknotes: A War State All Over

New Arrival:
A War State All Over: Alabama Politics and the Confederate Cause by Ben H. Severance (Univ of Ala Press, 2020).

With much of the more recent Confederate home front literature focusing on Unionists and resistance from both anti-Confederate civilians and slaves, Ben Severance's A War State All Over: Alabama Politics and the Confederate Cause reminds readers that the preponderance of the leadership and common citizenry of most Confederate states, including Alabama, possessed considerable unity of purpose and willingness to sacrifice. Severance's book "argues that Alabama’s electoral and political attitudes were, in their own way, just as unified in their support for the cause of southern independence. To be sure, the civilian populace often expressed unease about the conflict, as did a good many of Alabama’s legislators, but the majority of government officials and military personnel displayed pronounced Confederate loyalty and a consistent willingness to accept a total war approach in pursuit of their new nation’s aims. As Severance puts it, Alabama was a “war state all over.”

Using election data as a means of assessing popular support for the war after a series of military disasters in the Confederacy's western theater left Alabama itself open to invasion by the conflict's middle period, Severance's research finds Alabamians mostly steadfast in their devotion. The book "examines the state’s political leadership at multiple levels of governance—congressional, gubernatorial, and legislative—and orients much of his analysis around the state elections of 1863. Coming at the war’s midpoint, these elections provide an invaluable gauge of popular support for Alabama’s role in the Civil War, particularly at a time when the military situation for Confederate forces was looking bleak. The results do not necessarily reflect a society that was unreservedly prowar, but they clearly establish a polity that was committed to an unconditional Confederate victory, in spite of the probable costs."

More from the description: A War State All Over "focuses on the martial character of Alabama’s polity while simultaneously acknowledging the widespread angst of Alabama’s larger culture and society. In doing so, it puts a human face on the election returns by providing detailed character sketches of the principal candidates that illuminate both their outlook on the war and their role in shaping policy."

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