Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Booknotes: Ends of War

New Arrival:
Ends of War: The Unfinished Fight of Lee's Army after Appomattox by Caroline E. Janney (UNC Press, 2021).

Symbolic of the tidiest aspects of the end of the Civil War, the formal surrender at Appomattox has received the lion's share of past attention in both scholarly and popular publishing, but the less tidy features of the immediate postwar period have received increasingly intensive coverage of late. Caroline Janney's Ends of War: The Unfinished Fight of Lee's Army after Appomattox aims to contribute to that growing body of work. While most officers and men of the Army of Northern Virginia submitted to battlefield defeat and accepted their paroles, "others broke south and west, hoping to continue the fight. Fearing a guerrilla war, Grant extended the generous Appomattox terms to every rebel who would surrender himself. Provost marshals fanned out across Virginia and beyond, seeking nearly 18,000 of Lee's men who had yet to surrender."

As the book demonstrates, shock waves emanating from the Lincoln assassination also changed much of the character of war's end and the demobilization of Lee's army. The killing of the president "led Northern authorities to see threats of new rebellion in every rail depot and harbor where Confederates gathered for transport, even among those already paroled. While Federal troops struggled to keep order and sustain a fragile peace, their newly surrendered adversaries seethed with anger and confusion at the sight of Union troops occupying their towns and former slaves celebrating freedom."

A "new history of the weeks and months after Appomattox," Janney's study "reveals that Lee's surrender was less an ending than the start of an interregnum marked by military and political uncertainty, legal and logistical confusion, and continued outbursts of violence. Janney takes readers from the deliberations of government and military authorities to the ground-level experiences of common soldiers." The book also examines the post-surrender paths of noncombatants, black and white, who were attached to Lee's army. The full range of the civilian response to the presence of hungry ex-soldiers passing through their farms and communities is addressed as well. "Ultimately, what unfolds is the messy birth narrative of the Lost Cause, laying the groundwork for the defiant resilience of rebellion in the years that followed."

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