by Vikki Bynum
Excerpt from Introduction: An unlikely defender of the rights of the common people during the Civil War was North Carolina physician Samuel L. Holt, first cousin to textile mill owner Edwin M. Holt. Moved by his conversation with a poor man of Randolph County, whose only plow horse had been seized by a Confederate “press gang,” Holt fired off a letter to Governor Vance on May 24, 1863, charging that “this county has sent many & true men to this piratical war,” while the “coxcombs, cowards, & puppies,” of the planter class manage “to screen their own carcasses from yankee bullets.”
The ordinary people defended by Samuel Holt are a major subject of the essays featured in The Long Shadow of the Civil War. So also are their multiracial neighbors and kinfolk, some of whom were slaves, others free, before the war. Three central questions run throughout: 1) how prevalent was support for the Union among ordinary southerners during the Civil War, and how was it expressed? 2) How did southern Unionists and freed people experience the Union’s victory and emancipation of slaves during the era of Reconstruction and beyond? 3) What were the legacies of the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the South’s white supremacist counter-revolution in regard to race relations, class relations, and New South Politics?
To answer these questions and more, each essay examines a unique aspect of the Southern home front during the Civil War, but also covers events that occurred long after the fighting had ended and the nation was “reconciled.” Several essays tell stories that extend well into the twentieth century. The incredibly long shadow of the American Civil War reminds us that the past, truly, is prologue.