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In Tennessee's Radical Army, author Ben H. Severance draws upon a wealth of newresearch to argue that the State Guard successfully enforced the Reconstruction policiesof the Radical Republican government from 1867 until its dissolution in 1869.Historians have often accused Governor Brownlow of abusing executive power during hisadministration; Severance argues, however, that although it was a partisan law enforcementbody, the State Guard usually conducted itself with a high degree of discipline andrestraint. When it was deployed during the political campaigns of 1867 and under themartial law decrees of 1869, the State Guard effectively subdued the intimidation andviolence that ex-Confederates frequently used to suppress freedmen and to unseatRepublicans. Severance contrasts these two campaigns with incidents in 1868, when theKlan terrorized large portions of the state. The State Guard was not deployed in 1868,and both the Republican party and freedmen suffered as a result.In this first in-depth examination of the Tennessee State Guard, Severance describesthe militia's origins, personnel, activities, and accomplishments, and he places the historyof the State Guard within the larger story of the hard-fought battle for Reconstructionin Tennessee. The result is a profile of an organization that became an important tool ofpolitical policy and a force that should have been used for a greater length of time duringthe period of Reconstruction.
Posted January 22, 2009
With 500 newly freed African Americans among its members, the 2,000-strong Tennessee State Guard played a crucial role in allowing for elections and keeping the elected Republican governor in office in Tennessee in the first years of Reconstruction after the Civil War. Severance (assistant professor, Auburn U.) refers to this state militia as 'radical' because it was used by Brownlow and others who 'styled themselves radical Republicans.' These 'radicals,' however, were the duly elected, legitimate political leaders of Tennessee at the time. The determined resistance they met from many Tennesseans, however, including the Ku Klux Klan, made the Northern victory in the Civil War seem 'the most gigantic falsehood of the age,' as one Radical Republican put it. The State Guard's role has been controversial since Reconstruction. But Severance views it mostly favorably, while not leaving out the controversial aspects of its role. It filled a role between local authorities who were part of the resistance or helpless to curtail it and the Federal authorities and troops who regarded it as outside their jurisdiction. Without the State Guard, Tennessee would have been mostly lawless. Severence studies its necessary, irreplaceable role in laying the political and legal groundwork, however controversial and flawed this was, which the victorious Union side had fought for in the Civil War. This thankless task fell to the Guard, which met it effectively and respectably.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.