Kate Masur is assistant professor of history and African American studies at Northwestern University.
Victor B. Howard's Black Liberation in Kentucky fills this void in the history of slavery and emancipation. In doing so, however, he does not just chronicle the experiences of black Kentucky, because as he notes in his introduction, "such a work would distort the past as much as a book concerned solely with white people." Beginning with an overview of the situation before the war, Howard examines reactions to the emancipation proclamation and how the writ was executed in Kentucky. He also explores the role the army played, both during the war as freed black enlisted and after the war as former slaves transitioned to freedom.
The situation for former slaves in Kentucky was just as precarious as in other southern states, and Howard documents the challenges they faced from keeping families together to finding work. He also documents the early fights for civil rights in the state, detailing battles over the right to testify in court, black suffrage, and access to education. As Black Liberation in Kentucky shows, Kentucky's slaves fought for their freedom and rights from the beginning, refusing to continue in bondage and proving themselves accomplished actors destined to play a critical role in Civil War and Reconstruction.
Their attacks produced exactly the effects whites least desired: the blacks became all the more determined to leave the countryside, and the federal government imposed the Freedmen's Bureau to protect the former slaves. Kentucky in the Reconstruction Era shows how this and other forms of federal intervention angered even the most loyal white citizens, leading to Kentucky's hostility to the national administration and consequent reputation as a state dominated by ex-Confederates.
Gradually, however, things began to change, as hopes for future prosperity outweighed past disappointments. While the old feuds were not healed during this period, many of the state's leaders shifted their attention to more productive matters, and the way was opened to eventual reconciliation.
In the late 1840s, Representative Abraham Lincoln resided at Mrs. Sprigg’s boardinghouse on Capitol Hill. Known as Abolition House, Mrs. Sprigg’s hosted lively dinner-table debates of antislavery politics by the congressional boarders. The unusually rapid turnover in the enslaved staff suggested that there were frequent escapes north to freedom from Abolition House, likely a cog in the underground railroad. These early years in Washington proved formative for Lincoln.
In 1861, now in the White House, Lincoln could gaze out his office window and see the Confederate flag flying across the Potomac. Washington, DC, sat on the front lines of the Civil War. Vulnerable and insecure, the capital was rife with Confederate sympathizers. On the crossroads of slavery and freedom, the city was a refuge for thousands of contraband and fugitive slaves. The Lincoln administration took strict measures to tighten security and established camps to provide food, shelter, and medical care for contrabands. In 1863, a Freedman’s Village rose on the grounds of the Lee estate, where the Confederate flag once flew.
The president and Mrs. Lincoln personally comforted the wounded troops who flooded wartime Washington. In 1862, Lincoln spent July 4 riding in a train of ambulances carrying casualties from the Peninsula Campaign to Washington hospitals. He saluted the “One-Legged Brigade” assembled outside the White House as “orators,” their wounds eloquent expressions of sacrifice and dedication. The administration built more than one hundred military hospitals to care for Union casualties.
These are among the unforgettable scenes in Lincoln’s Citadel, a fresh, absorbing narrative history of Lincoln’s leadership in Civil War Washington. Here is the vivid story of how the Lincoln administration met the immense challenges the war posed to the city, transforming a vulnerable capital into a bastion for the Union.
Eric Foner's "masterful treatment of one of the most complex periods of American history" (New Republic) redefined how the post-Civil War period was viewed.
Reconstruction chronicles the way in which Americans—black and white—responded to the unprecedented changes unleashed by the war and the end of slavery. It addresses the ways in which the emancipated slaves' quest for economic autonomy and equal citizenship shaped the political agenda of Reconstruction; the remodeling of Southern society and the place of planters, merchants, and small farmers within it; the evolution of racial attitudes and patterns of race relations; and the emergence of a national state possessing vastly expanded authority and committed, for a time, to the principle of equal rights for all Americans.
This "smart book of enormous strengths" (Boston Globe) remains the standard work on the wrenching post-Civil War period—an era whose legacy still reverberates in the United States today.