Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution That Transformed the South

By Bruce Levine

Before the election of Abraham Lincoln as the 16th President of the United States on November 6, 1860 the South was at its apex; within the borders of its vast area a small minority of wealthy slave-owners amassed not only enormous fortunes but also a great power that dominated the United States’ political landscape since the end of the American Revolution.  Five years later, in the wake of the Civil War, the South had lost everything; its great cities lay in ruins, its landscape ravaged, its wealth gone, its slaves freed, and its political power vanished.  Why and how this stunning reversal of the South’s social, political and economic systems happened is the subject of Bruce Levine’s book, “The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution that Transformed the South.”

Levine, the J. G. Randall Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Illinois, sets the stage nicely in his first two chapters.  He describes the “House of Dixie” as it existed in 1860 and then reaches back through history to describe how it was built from its foundations up.  Having covered this background moves chronologically through the war, and describes events that slowly and gradually disassembled the Southern social, political and economic structure, piece by piece until its collapse.

Though “The Fall of the House of Dixie” is not a book of military history, it does cover it share of battles within the structure of its narrative, Levine’s focus is more on the social and economic impact of the war on the South.  A major component of the South’s economic and social systems was built on a shaky foundation of slavery.  The African-American’s experience, though not primarily dealt with, slavery and the status of slaves is a major focus of Professor Levine’s book. 

Levine demonstrates “The House of Dixie” was not built on a firm footing on bedrock, but rather on quicksand. As the status of the enslaved Blacks of the South changed during the war, the trickle of slaves leaving the plantations before the Emancipation Proclamation and the steady stream after it quickly eroded the foundation of slavery that the Southern social, economic and political system was built upon, and the passage of the 13th amendment destroyed it forever.

“The Fall of the House of Dixie” is very well researched.  Its author has exhumed a treasure trove of primary sources: letters, diaries, newspaper accounts and government documents to tell the tale of the multi-faceted drama of the South’s political, social and economic demise of the 1860s.  It is well written and engages its readers from its first to its last page.

ISBN 978-1400067039, Random House, © 2013, Hardcover, 464 pages, Photographs, Maps Illustrations, End Notes, Bibliography & Index. $30.00.  To purchase a copy of this book click HERE.

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