Confederates from Iowa:

Not to Defend, but to Understand

An upset in the making: A review of The Confederacy at Flood Tide

Football announcers, amazingly enough, parallel the work of historians:  They both offer play-by-play comments, descriptions of players, speculation, and post-game analysis.  Historian Philip Leigh has written a thoughtful book, The Confederacy at Flood Tide:  The Political and Military Ascension, June to December 1862.

Leigh describes “the Confederacy’s most opportune period for winning independence.”  He excels at setting things in context, ranging from battles in the Eastern and Western Theaters to geopolitical struggles in Europe.  The book ends on the crescendo of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Divided loyalties

The author offers a political insight about Robert E. Lee and the South in general:

Since he [Lee] famously, and reluctantly, resigned as a U.S. Army colonel during the secession crisis, Lee appreciated that the Confederacy was composed of people with divided loyalties and consciences.  Many would require victories in order to remain steadfast to the new cause.

View from the street

A few lively quotes pepper the text.  For example, a pro-Union woman was dismayed that Confederates had entered her Maryland neighborhood:

I asked myself in amazement, were these dirty, lank, ugly specimens of humanity the men that had driven back again and again our splendid legions with their fine discipline, their martial show and color?

I felt humiliated at the thought that this horde of ragamuffins could set our grand army of the Union at defiance.  Oh!  They are so dirty.  I don’t think the Potomac River could wash them clean.

Financial fallout

Leigh shares interesting, little-known financial information about the broader war at sea.   For example, he states:

Raiders like the Alabama caused a surge in insurance rates for cargoes carried in American hulls.  Consequently, many Northern ship owners sold their vessels at depressed prices to foreign buyers who could sail their ships without fear of Confederate capture.

Half the U.S. merchant fleet vanished during the Civil War.  Rebel raiders destroyed about 100,000 tons, but 800,000 tons were sold to neutral registrants.  Although previously the envy of the maritime world, the U.S. merchant marine was permanently eclipsed thereafter.

What if … ?

Counter-factual scenarios are some of the most intriguing questions in history.  Leigh considers what might have happened if war had broken out between Britain and the United States:

Although it would be hard for Britain to maintain an army in America, its powerful navy might have ended the federal blockade of Southern ports and even blockaded Northern harbors.

Contrary to popular belief, the Monitor and Merrimack were not the first ironclad warships.  The British and French began building bigger and faster deep-water ironclads before America’s Civil War started.

The Road to emancipation

The author deftly traces Lincoln’s journey as he formed his thoughts about abolition and emancipation.  Leigh also clearly explains Lincoln’s strategy of using the Emancipation Proclamation to hasten the end of the war.

My recommendation

This book is a good contribution to the discussion of the Civil War, Lincoln, emancipation, and the Confederacy’s seemingly best chance to obtain independence.  I recommend this logical, clear, and thought-provoking book.

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Thank you for reading my blog.  Please leave any questions and comments below.


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  1. This looks like an excellent read. Thanks for the tip.

  2. David, I appreciate your honesty and candor, sir!

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