Friday, April 27, 2012

Book Review: The Slaves’ War

It was one of those books that I ordered expecting it to languish on my shelves until I should happen to be in the mood for it. Though it sounded terribly interesting, interesting enough to prompt me to buy it, it was thick and had the sort of college-course-assignment vibe to it. But it didn’t languish nearly as long as I expected, and my expectations for how long it would take me to finish were even more exceeded.

The Slaves War by Andrew Ward is billed as “The Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves,” and that’s exactly what it is. Woven together with more standard historical battle accounts and report from generals are first-hand accounts from slaves collected during several interview projects in the early 20th century.

The book is arranged in chronological order, covering from just before the war through some of reconstruction. It’s incredibly interesting to see how the slaves’ ideas about and reactions to the Yankees change as the war goes on.  From an initial fear of an unknown described to them as a monster, to an almost idolizing, to disgust, distrust and near hatred, there’s a very visible evolution that comes with the war, occupation and Reconstruction.

Nearly every anecdote popular about slavery and the Civil War seems to come out as true in some area another. The South was (is) a big place and there was great variety among slave-holders, slave treatment, and direct effects of the Civil War.  Some stories of society in the mid 1880s seemed to have a striking resemblance to aspects of current society. Stop snitching has deep roots.

But for me, the most striking part of the book was this photograph from the Library of Congress,

Five generations on Smith's Plantation, Beaufort, South Carolina

which immediately brought to my mind this picture,

zam fam

and reminded me of Ba Faye (fourth from left, back row) telling me while we were picking cotton that she wished someone would kidnap her son (front row, 2nd from left) to make him a slave because then he would be in America.


I recommend the book.

Note: My “Zam Fam” pic also appears on the post “Mosquitos Kill, Kill Mosquitos” from October 26, 2008.

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