"Brilliantly researched and persuasively argued.... Levine delivers what ought to be a death blow to the still-popular refrain in Lost Cause rhetoric that the war had never been fought for slavery."David W. Blight, Washington Post Book World
"Thoughtful, authoriitative, and convincing.... No one since Robert F. Durden has examined this broader issue with the kind of systematic and detailed attention that Bruce Levine provides in this slim but elegant book."Civil War Times
"Having fought for nearly four years to keep their bondsmen in slavery, many Southern whites experienced what amounted to a deathbed conversion to the idea of freeing and arming them to fight for the Confederacy. As Bruce Levine shows in this important book, the idea was unlikely to become reality even if Appomattox had not intervened to end the experiment before it fairly started. Disentangling myth from history, Confederate Emancipation deepens our understanding of the Civil War."James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom
"This is the little known, but vastly significant story of race at the crisis-point of the Confederacy. In clear and compelling tones, Levine sets out a history of the Civil War era through the words and actions of southerners pushed to the point of desperation, and hoping that slave soldiers might save the slavery-based southern way of life. This is historical detective work and analysis at its very best. The image of the Civil War South is transformed forever." James O. Horton, co-author of Slavery and the Making of America
"The Civil War produced few more ironic episodes than the Confederacy's debate about whether to arm and liberate enslaved African Americans. Bruce Levine's welcome study illuminates the conditions that gave rise to the debate, the forces arrayed in favor and against the idea, and the ultimate failure of those who saw black men as the key to establishing a white slaveholding republic. This book, which reminds us again of the war's immense complexity, deserves to attract the widest possible audience." Gary W. Gallagher, author of The Confederate War
"Throughout history, slaves have been armed in defense of their masters, often exchanging freedom for military service. The inability of the Southern Confederacy to do so until its doom was sealed reveals, perhaps as nothing else, the essence of Southern nationalism. In telling the full story of the Confederacy's failure to mobilize slaves in its defense, Bruce Levine brilliantly reveals the essence of Confederate nationality." Ira Berlin, author of Generations of Captivity: A History of African-American Slaves
Levine breathes some welcome truths into this dispute over public memory. "The Confederacy had come into the world to protect slavery," he writes, and those leaders who urged arming slaves by freeing them did so "not despite their antebellum values but because of them. In pushing to enact this measure, they were trying to preserve as much of the Old South as they could." Confederates almost achieved the goals of Confederate emancipation, despite losing on the battlefield. This book reminds us, however, of the profound importance of Union victory.
The Washington Post
The problems and ramifications of slavery were to bedevil the Confederate government all through the Civil War. To begin with, the very existence of the South's "peculiar institution" was bedrock to the entire secession movement. For all the argument about State's Rights, economics, and geographical differences, no one south of the Mason-Dixon Line ever imagined that the Confederacy could survive if slavery were ended. At first, both North and South considered it to be a huge advantage to the rebelscheap forced labor would keep the economy going and release huge numbers of farmers and workers to become soldiers. As the war dragged on, however, and more and more slaves fled to the Northern lines, this halcyon idea began to change. Southern politicians noted that neither farming nor manufacturing were going especially well, and the appearance of black freedmen in the Federal armies brought flickers of panic. For the rest of the war, a huge argument engulfed the southern states as to whether the Confederacy should arm its male slaves and put them into the front lines. Levine uses the ensuing debates to show that the South had never really come to grips with its black population, nor how to deal with their servitude. Might arming some slaves ignite a dreaded slave revolt, or would they prove a Godsend on the battlefield? On the other hand, were they even capable of fighting as well as whites? Should freedom be offered to them as a reward? If so, what of their families back in the slave quarters? Why would the southern oligarchy support such a move if it beggared them? As Southern defeat loomed ever nearer, some even began to argue desperately that black soldiers would indeed fightfor the Confederacy and then willingly return to their servitude. Levine, an historian at the University of Illinois, brilliantly demonstrates the turmoil and cross-purposes that hindered the Confederate government all through the war. Although he writes better than many academics, this book is by no means "popular history." Advanced YA readers will handle it, though, and it is recommended for AP classes as well as general university collections.