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Publisher's Summary

A groundbreaking new history, telling the stories of hundreds of African-American activists and officeholders who risked their lives for equality - in the face of murderous violence - in the years after the Civil War. By 1870, just five years after Confederate surrender and 13 years after the Dred Scott decision ruled blacks ineligible for citizenship, Congressional action had ended slavery and given the vote to black men. That same year, Hiram Revels and Joseph Hayne Rainey became the first African-American U.S. senator and congressman respectively. In South Carolina, only 20 years after the death of arch-secessionist John C. Calhoun, a black man, Jasper J. Wright, took a seat on the state’s Supreme Court. Not even the most optimistic abolitionists thought such milestones would occur in their lifetimes. The brief years of Reconstruction marked the United States’ most progressive moment prior to the civil rights movement. Previous histories of Reconstruction have focused on Washington politics. But in this sweeping, prodigiously researched narrative, Douglas Egerton brings a much bigger, even more dramatic story into view, exploring state and local politics and tracing the struggles of some 1,500 African-American officeholders, in both the North and South, who fought entrenched white resistance. Tragically, their movement was met by ruthless violence - not just riotous mobs, but also targeted assassination. With stark evidence, Egerton shows that Reconstruction, often cast as a “failure” or a doomed experiment, was rolled back by murderous force. The Wars of Reconstruction is a major and provocative contribution to American history.

©2014 Douglas R. Egerton (P)2014 Audible Inc.

Critic Reviews

"The history of [the] era [of Reconstruction] has rarely if ever been as well told as it is in Douglas R. Egerton's forcefully argued and crisply written The Wars of Reconstruction. Mr. Egerton presents a sometimes inspiring but more often deeply shocking story that reveals the nation at its best and worst." ( The Wall Street Journal)
"Egerton’s study is an adept exploration of a past era of monumental relevance to the present and is recommended for any student of political conflict, social upheaval, and the perennial struggle against oppression." ( Publishers Weekly)
"A richly detailed history…An illuminating view of an era whose reform spirit would live on in the 1960s civil rights movement." ( Kirkus Reviews)

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Atrocities

As a chronological history of Reconstruction, “The Wars of Reconstruction” seems fragmented at times; the story of the rise and fall of the Klan, for example, appears in bits and pieces across several chapters, and is somewhat diluted as a result. But Egerton is writing a different book, not a strictly chronological history but one that highlights the organized violence that destroyed this promising attempt at progressive reform. The narrative is filled with accounts of appalling murders, massacres, and mutilations. (In one case, a supporter of Reconstruction was allowed to live, but only after he’d been taken into a swamp and castrated. In other cases, peaceful assemblies of freed people were broken up and hundreds killed.)

The depth of racism in the post-Civil War South is almost unbelievable. The dignified debates of the South Carolina constitutional convention were, in the popular imagination, a minstrel-show mockery of government. (I’ve read transcripts of some of those debates, and they are impressive.) Benjamin Randolph, a black state senator, fought hard to include provisions for universal public education, and to increase voting rights for blacks and whites. He was gunned down by the Klan in October 1868.

One of the most wrenching parts of the book describes the thousands of personal ads taken out by freed people; some black-owned newspapers were largely devoted to this. The ads were attempts to track down spouses and children who’d been separated by slave-owners looking for ready cash. Parents knew who their children had been sold to, but not where they’d ended up. The fabric of family life had been destroyed.

Egerton carries his narrative well into the 20th century. He describes the efforts of African American scholars like WEB Du Bois to set the record straight on Reconstruction, and the futility of their efforts as the racist glorification of The Lost Cause took root in American cultural life. Many, if not most, Americans today think of Reconstruction as an evil attempt by carpetbaggers and scalawags, along with illiterate and gullible blacks, to profit off the degradation of the South. If nothing else, the accounts of courage in the face of the atrocities in this book will show that version of history as the atrocious lie that it is.

Eric Martin’s narration is steady and matter-of-fact throughout.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Essential reading for all Americans.

Read it with The Half Has Never Been Told and Slavery By Another Name to completely alter and deepen your understanding of our history from the beginning of slavery to the present.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Counter to Fictional Accounts

This was a compelling story about Reconstruction. It does not touch much beyond the social issues of reconstruction and its effects on the South. What the story excels at is showing the promise of the post Civil War reforms and how those reforms were ultimately rolled back by the South still fighting for its old order. Rather than move forward from the Civil War, the South regressed back to many of its problems and put off true social change for 100 years.

Particularly helpful is the way the book went beyond the 1880's and includes how the historians and fictional writers of the early 20th century tried to rewrite Reconstruction as a vengeful act of a few northern Republicans. Civil rights were not revenge. They were a right for the southern citizens and this book explains how close we were to that change and then how it was all rolled back.

I enjoyed the book and learned more about the time period. I wish the author had spent some more time on the northern social issues during this time. To put little focus on them leaves out the southern argument that Reconstruction was imposing a social order on the South that the North did not have.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • GEORGE
  • HUNTERSVILLE, NC, United States
  • 04-10-18

An Eye Opener

What did you love best about The Wars of Reconstruction?

The matter of fact approach the author used to tell the story of the darkest period in our nations history. He held nothing back, and for anyone wanting to connect the dots from 1865 to 1965 this book draws a straight line.

Who was your favorite character and why?

There is no favorite character, but many many despicable actors.

What about Eric Martin’s performance did you like?

Good pace, clear and easily understood.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No, it was hard to listen to at times because of the nature of the atrocities committed by white southerners against former slaves and sympathetic whites.

Any additional comments?

This book told the story that, in my opinion, should be required telling in every history of the United States. I was only vaguely aware of what the 20 years following the end of the Civil War were like. It is clear that the war never really ended. Rather, the attitudes and mind set of those responsible for the hatred that prevailed then carried through to the civil rights struggles of the 1960's. Unfortunately, in 2018 it still persists.

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Essential History

Would you consider the audio edition of The Wars of Reconstruction to be better than the print version?

No, unfortunately the performance would have benefitted from a redo. It wasn't a terrible performance by any means, but the book was so dense with information that the steady, even pace of the narrator made it difficult to process the prose in several parts of the book.

What aspect of Eric Martin’s performance would you have changed?

I think several chapters would have benefitted from a more dramatic reading--a wider variety of rhythm and emphasis to make it easier for the readers' ears to parse the prose as it whizzes by.

Any additional comments?

The substance of this book is absolutely essential for Americans to know, and this book dives into the details in ways that other history books wouldn't have time to. I learned about the struggles to build public schools in the post-war South, and keep teachers employed in communities so anti-Reconstruction that even teachers' landlords were shunned. I learned about the losing battle this history fought, for generations, against the romanticized view of the South in popular literature like Gone with the Wind and Song of the South.

Most importantly, I learned that Reconstruction and the America that led up to it and through it was not so long ago. That history is a living part of who we are as a country. Even though the details of Reconstruction have largely been forgotten, ignored, or rewritten and politically weaponized, it is possible to learn and face the hard truths of that era.

Having been lucky enough to stumble across this book, I'm taking away the lesson that it's possible, even with everything on your side (legions of activists, the law, the moral high ground, constitutional amendments, basic human decency, the White House, both houses of Congress, etc), to lose the fight for equality. It's a hard lesson to learn, but this all happened. And with the US struggling with the question of authoritarian rule in the age of Trump, it's an important thing to keep in mind.

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  • Bhammer
  • Lawrence, MA United States
  • 08-31-17

Excellent

Rarely have I listened to a book this good. Thoroughly engaging and educational. So many heroes mentioned to research further. Worth listening to again.

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An important description of how reconstruction benefitted the country, and then was defeated by organized violence

This book sets the historical context of the civil war and how Black people sacrificed to create a better society

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Great Read

Fast paced and immensely informative. Mr. Everton book should be required reading for anyone interested in American History.
The

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outstanding

a very thorough expose on a sickening part of U S history. I always wondered what happened to reconstruction. why did it take so long for a segment of our population to get their basic human rights much less civil rights. now I know. how incredibly sad.

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Great

Didn't appreciate the voices the narrator had... Otherwise, he did a fantastic job overall. Great book!

0 of 1 people found this review helpful