The Reconstruction Years

The Tragic Aftermath of the War Between the States

Non-Fiction - Historical
368 Pages
Reviewed on 05/08/2014
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Jeffrey Brooke-Stewart for Readers' Favorite

Walter Coffey has written a first class overview of the period following the Civil War (The War Between the States) and in so doing has provided a very good teaching tool. Other than serious students of the subject, most of us have, at best, a superficial understanding of the years following the war. Political intrigue, corruption and manipulation caused a series of tragic missed opportunities. What should have, and could have, been a period of renewal and growth became a time of broken promises and ultimately financial and social depression.

To assist the reader in understanding this, the author dedicates each chapter to a specific year. The political scene as it relates to Restructure is covered in detail each year. In addition, the author includes a section concerning foreign events such as the Franco - Mexican situation. Also, he details other US developments each year, including financial and industrial progress and the women's suffrage movement as examples. This approach enables the reader to gain a good understanding of the period as it developed. There is one other important component to the yearly outline and that is the Native American struggle. The author relates the continual year by year deterioration in relationships between the American Indian and the US government.

The restructuring of the southern states is, of course, the main topic. The author painstakingly takes the reader from the immediate post-war months of celebration and hope, through the actions of Radical Republicans to the tragic ending. The corrupt and often violent actions are described as the Republicans set up a structure in the conquered states that destroyed the old order and way of life and set the scene for financial depression and subsequent violence and bloodshed. After more than ten years of chaos and intrigue, the author maintains that the American populace - people and politicians - became weary of it all. In a relatively short time, the radical Republican domination in the South was replaced by a backlash that removed all of the promise and gains made by the freed slaves. "Jim Crow" laws were introduced including segregated schools. A culture was established that would remain until the 1950s and '60s - and arguably until today.

Coffey takes the reader through all the detail behind that development. The subject has obviously been extensively researched and an extensive list of referenced material is included. This is a tiring and potentially depressing subject, but the author makes it readable and the information accessible. It is a good read for the student of American history, politics and social concerns.