Mark Wahlgren Summers
The University of North Carolina Press, 528 pp., 2014, $40.00
Image courtesy of amazon.com
Considered one of the harshest points in American history, the treatment of Reconstruction in written history books has been lacking and overly focused on specific issues. The Ordeal of the Reunion is a phenomenal one volume work on the period while focusing on those points which are lacking in recent historiography. Mark Wahlgren Summers handles many of the issues of Reconstruction but also takes things one more step in every point he makes. One of the best parts of his narrative focuses on the effects of this period on the west. The book also mentions racial equality and relations, but does not make a note of spending long periods of time on them. This not only makes the book one of the more reliable works on this period, but one of the best.
Mark Wahlgren Summers is a professor of history at the University of Kentucky focusing on 19th Century United States history, United States political history and political cartoons. He has authored many other works including A Dangerous Stir: Fear, Paranoia and the Making of Reconstruction, Railroads, Reconstruction, and the Gospel of Prosperity, and Rum, Romanism and Rebellion: The Making of a President, 1884. He is currently working on a project about the Gilded Age politics and the Andrew Johnson impeachment. This book is also part of the Littlefield History of the Civil War Era published by the University of North Carolina Press.
One of the major highlights of this book is what was sought to do differently than usual. Not only did Summers give us a history of the Reconstruction period, but he also gave us the facets of the era which were not wholly realized in other volumes. Instead of hammering home the ideal of racial equality and the Freemen’s Bureau, Summers focuses on the need to create the “more perfect Union” and the process which allowed those states back into the Union. Not only was the West a major part of the narrative, he also focuses on the realm of foreign policy which I have not yet read in a book on the period. He praises the successes which the Reconstruction period had but also explains the failures. Throughout this book, there is never any question as to the reasoning behind his explanations or theses due to the massive amount of research he placed into this narrative. Taking from many personal accounts, Summers talks about the aftermath of the war and the abilities for the men who served to get back into their communities. This fresh outlook into the period of the Reconstruction not only gives Civil War students everywhere a chance to view the period in a new and better light, but may change the opinion of many when it comes to the unfair treatment Reconstruction has received in the past.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the American Civil War. This book not only deals with Reconstruction, but shows the reader of the harshness of life after a terrible war. The narrative is approachable to anyone who is newly entering the realm of Civil War academia or a seasoned veteran. The book is aided by political cartoons and drawings from a myriad of newspapers from the time. In conclusion, I would recommend this book to anyone studying the Civil War as a whole as a fitting end to the conflict. Summers has triumphed in his work here.