Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Fw: H-South Review: Hahn on Wilson, _Confederate Industry_

Expand Messages
  • Ray Ortensie
    ... From: Ian Binnington, H-South To: Sent: Thursday, January 23, 2003 5:09 PM Subject: H-South Review: Hahn on
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 23 3:19 PM
      ----- Original Message -----
      From: "Ian Binnington, H-South" <binningt@...>
      To: <H-SOUTH@...>
      Sent: Thursday, January 23, 2003 5:09 PM
      Subject: H-South Review: Hahn on Wilson, _Confederate Industry_

      > Published by H-South@... (January 2003)
      > Harold S. Wilson. _Confederate Industry: Manufacturers and Quartermasters
      > in the Civil War_. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2002. xxii +
      > 412 pp. Tables, b/w illustrations, notes, bibliography, and index. $45.00
      > (cloth), ISBN 1-57806-462-7.
      > Reviewed for H-South by Barbara Hahn (bhahn@...), Department of
      > History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
      > _Manufacturers and the Confederate State_
      > Photographs of fallen Richmond from the last days of the rebellion depict
      > burned-out buildings, tall plain structures with many close-set windows:
      > factory buildings. The Confederate capital's gutted mills illustrate not
      > only the devastation of war, but also the recognition by the Union of an
      > industrial sector that had sustained the war effort. In _Confederate
      > Industry_, Harold Wilson explores the history of southern manufacturing
      > the entrepreneurs who guided it, their relationships with the state,
      > Confederate, and victorious Federal governments, and their paths between
      > diplomacy and commerce with the wider Atlantic world. Wilson uses these
      > stories to argue two main points: that the experience of war moved the
      > Confederacy into an "experiment with military socialism," and that Old
      > South manufacturers provided the foundation for New South
      > industrialization. A somewhat frustrating read because of its detailed,
      > source-driven narrative, Wilson's book nonetheless shines the light of
      > extensive primary research on the changing roles of southern
      > and the course of the business-government relationship within the
      > Confederate States of America (C.S.A.). [1]
      > Wilson sets his stage by chronicling a war of statistics that predated the
      > military conflict, in which northerners promoted their manufacturing
      > predominance and southerners rebutted with their own impressive numbers.
      > also introduces his key manufacturers: the Crenshaws, woolen manufacturers
      > of Virginia, Francis Levin Fries and Edwin Michael Holt in North Carolina,
      > William and James Gregg, father and son mill-owners in South Carolina,
      > James Barrington King and Henry Merrell in Georgia and Arkansas, and
      > Pratt of Alabama. These and other manufacturers opposed secession,
      > according to Wilson, because they knew which side of their bread had all
      > the butter. Northern and foreign banks supplied their credit, and their
      > factories required machinery from international suppliers. Though
      > mill-owners opposed the formation of the Confederacy, they served it
      > reasonably well and overcame the extensive difficulties of dealing with
      > quartermasters' demands and the evolving Confederate bureaucracy.
      > In two chapters, Wilson explores the controversial tenure of Abraham C.
      > Myers, the Confederacy's first quartermaster general. Myers, the grandson
      > of Charleston's rabbi and a career army officer, proved unable to parlay
      > his devotion to the Confederate cause and his logistical successes during
      > the Mexican War into an adequate supply system for the several far-flung
      > armies of the Confederacy. He sent circulars to manufacturers inviting
      > their bids, directed purchasing agents to visit mills and make
      > on site, and established warehouses and manufacturing operations in port
      > cities. Yet "traditionalism" dogged Myers' bureaucracy, which owed as much
      > to patronage as efficiency. He delegated too much authority to his
      > assistants, favored factories by exempting workers from conscription, and
      > gave lucrative appointments and contracts to his friends. Volunteer
      > companies outfitted themselves, which meant competition for goods within
      > the army. In the winter of 1861-1862, this system was already breaking
      > down, and the closing of the Mississippi further interrupted trade within
      > the Confederacy. Rather than meet needs creatively, Myers often responded
      > to complaints with tiresome recitations of regulations. [2]
      > To be fair, Myers' responsibilities loomed larger than keeping the armies
      > supplied, as Wilson points out. The quartermaster general distributed all
      > the army pay, secured all prisoners of war, and controlled water and
      > railroad commerce for several years as well. High inflation made his job
      > harder. Attempts to regulate prices failed, and many textile manufacturers
      > held weekly auctions of their goods. Industrial access to raw materials
      > machine parts suffered not only from the Union blockade but also from
      > wartime disruptions in cotton and wool production. The rapid depreciation
      > of the Confederate currency made businessmen unable to pay distant debts,
      > while workers deserted the factories for the army. Too often, "relief
      > associations, ladies' societies, state agencies, friends and families" did
      > a better job of supplying basic goods to the armies. While Myers had many
      > high-ranking friends, line officers despised him. After Gettysburg, in
      > 1863, Jefferson Davis appointed brigadier general Alexander L. Lawton to
      > outrank Myers and move the quartermaster department toward the "full
      > mobilization of Confederate resources." [3]
      > Lawton escaped many of Myers' failings by pushing for "a uniform standard
      > of procurement and production." This included establishing standard
      > clothing and shoe sizes and patterns to eliminate inefficient cutting in
      > clothing manufacture, and instituting a uniform system of contracts as
      > well. By the end of 1864, Lawton had a satisfactory structure in place for
      > mobilizing the manufacturing resources of the Confederacy to supply its
      > armies. But full self-sufficiency proved impossible. While manufacturers
      > replacement parts for textile machinery proliferated across the C.S.A.,
      > absence of wire-pulling machinery (necessary for the card clothing that
      > separated cotton fibers) crippled the mills. Manufacturers turned to
      > commerce to keep their factories going, running the Union blockade with
      > supplies. Government and private steamers landed needed goods on the
      > coasts, but Wilson argues that "with more emphasis on importing machinery,
      > the domestic contribution [to army supplies] might have been far greater."
      > When factories fell to fire or siege, scavengers quickly salvaged their
      > parts to keep other mills running. [4]
      > With the coming of total war, advancing U.S. armies laid waste to the
      > C.S.A.'s factories. Active mills, with their fires and food stores, drew
      > the civilian population made destitute by war. After Appomattox, Wilson
      > argues, the devastation of private property, the wrecked railroads and
      > mills, and the "disorganization of labor" combined to make economic
      > Reconstruction the cornerstone of Andrew Johnson's policies. Pardons for
      > manufacturers came easily, though few willingly accepted the repudiation
      > Confederate debts. Wilson judges Presidential Reconstruction as an attempt
      > "to forestall greater chaos" and Radical Reconstruction, briefly, as an
      > interruption to the process of building a New South on the foundations of
      > the old. [5]
      > Wilson tells his story with a vivid pen and an especially fine gift for
      > descriptive turns of phrase. For example, he completes a sketch of complex
      > railway connections around lost territory and destroyed lines with an
      > of the army that "dangled at the end of a supply line almost 1,000 miles
      > long." When he tackles Presidential Reconstruction, he uses his
      > manufacturers to place Andrew Johnson clearly within the shifting class
      > identities of the defeated South with the simple and telling phrase,
      > "Johnson worked with these self-made men." But he has less flair for
      > structure. He has not pruned the minutiae of his narrative enough to
      > sustain his argument clearly over the course of his book, nor to present
      > his analysis of events as they occur. He shows too many trees, with few
      > guideposts through the forest. [6]
      > In support of this detailed story, Wilson has done a truly impressive
      > amount of primary research. He has mined manuscript collections at fifty
      > depositories, the Confederacy's papers in Record Group 109 at the National
      > Archives, manuscript census materials for population and industry,
      > newspapers across the C.S.A., records of legislative assemblies, coverage
      > of commercial and manufacturing expositions, and then some. He has even
      > up Mary Chesnut's reference to yarn circulating as money in 1864. Yet
      > Wilson's cumbersome citation system - a combination of parenthetical
      > references and endnotes, sometimes more than 200 notes per chapter -
      > detracts from this accomplishment. Better consolidation of his sources at
      > the ends of paragraphs would better suit his narrative style and could aid
      > the reader in following the structure of his argument.
      > This attention to primary materials, however laudable, may also have
      > Wilson from an opportunity to address the historical debates surrounding
      > American industrialization. Except for three pages of historiography
      > sketched in the preface, the author makes little effort to place his work
      > within the literature. When he cites recent books, such as Bess Beatty's
      > _Alamance_ or Scott Reynolds Nelson's _Iron Confederacies_, he generally
      > mines them for information rather than engaging their arguments. Yet he
      > could have used the issues raised by his colleagues to sort out the
      > implications of the Confederate state's "experiment with military
      > socialism." In tracing continuities between antebellum and New South
      > industry, he implies (and occasionally declares) that the Civil War
      > accelerated industrialization. Quantitative scholarship, however, has
      > revealed a very different story of destruction, interference, and
      > retardation, one for which Wilson has himself provided vivid narrative
      > evidence in the ruin of southern business. [7]
      > Richard Franklin Bensel's exploration of the shifting relationships among
      > business, industry, and the state during the Civil War and Reconstruction
      > revealed similar outcomes to those Wilson has uncovered, but Bensel does
      > not characterize the political economy that emerged from the war as
      > anything other than capitalist. Wilson's own sources could have let him
      > fully confront the contradictions between the economic and physical
      > devastation of industry on the one hand, and the impact of government
      > policies fostering industrialization on the other. [8]
      > If Wilson's inattention to historiography may leave a scholarly audience
      > wondering what conclusions to draw from his work, popular readers will
      > likely enjoy the story with its lively characters and intriguing
      > relationships between the Confederacy and its leading citizens. And
      > Wilson's Herculean efforts in the archives serve well as a guide for
      > researchers in exploring nineteenth-century Southern industry, who will
      > have to contend with his findings.
      > _Notes_
      > [1]. Wilson, _Confederate Industry_, 237; "Richmond, Va. Ruined buildings
      > in the burned district," photograph, April-June 1865, Library of Congress
      > Call Number B811-3234, <http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amhome.html>.
      > [2]. Wilson, _Confederate Industry_, 94.
      > [3]. Ibid., 80, 92.
      > [4]. Ibid., 94, 179.
      > [5]. Ibid., 235, 243.
      > [6]. Ibid., 96, 230.
      > [7]. Ibid., x, 229, quotation at 237; Bess Beatty, _Alamance: The Holt
      > Family and Industrialization in a North Carolina County, 1837-1900_ (Baton
      > Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1999); Scott Reynolds Nelson,
      > _Iron Confederacies: Southern Railways, Klan Violence, and Reconstruction_
      > (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999); Ralph L.
      > ed., _The Economic Impact of the American Civil War_ (Cambridge, Mass.:
      > Schenkman Publishing Co., 1962).
      > [8]. Richard Franklin Bensel, _Yankee Leviathan: The Origins of Central
      > State Authority in America, 1859-1877_ (New York: Cambridge University
      > Press, 1990).
      > Copyright (c) 2003 by H-Net, all rights reserved. This work may be copied
      > for non-profit educational use if proper credit is given to the author and
      > the list. For other permission, please contact H-Net@....
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.