Book Review: The Record of Murders and Outrages: Racial Violence and the Fight Over Truth at the Dawn of Reconstruction

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by William A. Blair

Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2021. Pp. viii, 174. Tables, notes, index. $19.95 paper. ISBN: 1469663457

Racial Violence in Post-Civil War America

Having delved deeply over the last thirty years into documents at the National Archives and the files of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, William Blair gives us a look at the enormous mass of evidence gathered by the government and the army during the early post war years and Reconstruction concerning atrocities committed across the South against African Americans. He demonstrates that President Johnson, many Democrats, and some conservative Republicans failed to believe – or simply ignored – the evidence of racist-inspired murders, assaults, rapes, church burnings, and more that resulted from the white South’s rejection of the terms of reunion which also fostered the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan. Many such persons claimed that the Radical Republicans were, in effect, promoting “fake news” in order to subject the South to military occupation and secure the votes of the freedmen for the Republican Party.

Blair, makes a strong argument that critics disregarded evidence of eye witnesses, whether black or white, and even military personnel and Freedmen’s Bureau workers, to claim that crime against African Americans was no different from endemic violence common across the United States, a serious mischaracterization of events. Many critics claimed that whites were victims as well of violence perpetrated by Black people.

Blair demonstrates how, to confront President Andrew Johnson’s hostility to Reconstruction, Freedmen's Bureau Commissioner Oliver O. Howard and his subordinates across the former secessionist states gathered numerous accounts of "murders and outrages" to reveal the degree of violence being used against African Americans and Southern Republicans, to disprove claims of a peaceful South, contradicting the President’s policies and supporting “Radical Republican” efforts for continued military rule of the South.

The available evidence, often from African Americans testifying at some risk to their lives, showed that white supremacists were doing everything possible to restore racial dominance, and that even state and local courts offered no relief, usually failing to prosecute those guilty of wrongdoing.

The Bureau assessed that it received reports of only a fraction of the crimes committed against Black people, but Blair demonstrates that the evidence accumulated by Howard and his subordinates documenting conditions led to the adoption of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments, and slowed the restoration of civil government in several Southern states, especially Georgia.

Combining valuable, fresh historical detail with very compelling story-telling,

The Record of Murders And Outrages will prove informative reading for anyone interested in Reconstruction and race relations in post bellum America, and is highly recommended.

 

Our Reviewer: David Marshall has been a high school American history teacher in the Miami-Dade School district for more than three decades. A life-long Civil War enthusiast, David is president of the Miami Civil War Round Table Book Club. In addition to numerous reviews in Civil War News and other publications, he has given presentations to Civil War Round Tables on Joshua Chamberlain, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the common soldier. His previous reviews here include Gettysburg Rebels, The Siege of Vicksburg: Climax of the Campaign to Open the Mississippi River, From Arlington to Appomattox: Robert E. Lee’s Civil War, Day by Day, 1861-1865, Unsung Hero of Gettysburg: The Story of Union General David McMurtrie Gregg, The Man Who Punched Jefferson Davis: The Political Life of Henry S. Foote, Custer: From the Civil War’s Boy General to the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Lincoln Comes to Gettysburg, Passing Through the Fire: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in the Civil War, The Summer of ’63: Vicksburg and Tullahoma, Crosshairs on the Capital: Jubal Early’s Raid on Washington, Ends of War: The Unfinished Fight of Lee's Army after Appomattox, and Voices of the Army of the Potomac.

 

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Note: The Record of Murders and Outrages is also available in hard back and e-editions.

 

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

www.nymas.org and https://www.nymas2.org/

Reviewer: David Marshall   


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