(Montage courtesy of Sarah Steinbock-Pratt)
As a historian who began digging into records and documents about ordinary and extraordinary people some thirty years ago, I’ve long wanted to share the history of those people with a broader audience. Whether you are a historian or someone who just likes history, this blog was created with you in mind.
As the blog’s title, Renegade South, suggests, I study southern dissenters of the nineteenth century. Several kinds of renegades pass through the pages of my books and articles: Civil War Unionists and outlaws, multiracial people, unruly women, and political and religious nonconformists.My books, The Free State of Jones, Unruly Women, and The Long Shadow of the Civil War highlight such folks in the Mississippi Piney Woods, North Carolina Piedmont, and the “Big Thicket” region of Hardin County, Texas.
It’s often hard to imagine that many white southerners opposed secession and served only grudgingly in the Confederate Army, if at all. Yet many did. Throughout the South, many put family, neighborhood, or religious and political beliefs ahead of secession. Many, in fact, hated the Confederacy with a passion, so much so that their backyards ran red with blood. Wherever they rose up, Confederates countered with deadly force. This sparked inner civil wars such as the one in Mississippi known as the Free State of Jones.
Many people who contact me have recently learned that a southern great-great-grandfather opposed or abandoned the Confederacy, or even joined the Union army. Others have found a long-departed relative in one of my books, and are intrigued by what they’ve read about his or her life. Others merely hope that readers of Renegade South can help them solve a family mystery, and often they can. Whatever the reason, I truly enjoy being a people’s historian, and I especially love the thrill of discovering—and then being in a position to share—that ordinary people at times do extraordinary things.
I hope those who enjoy Southern and Civil War history will also enjoy the essays on these pages. I also hope you’ll continue to contact me. The past is anything but dead, and is frequently invoked to justify present ideas and political actions. For these reasons as well, historical knowledge and perspectives should be shared and debated beyond school and college classrooms.
Distinguished Professor Emeritus
Texas State University