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FW: H-South Review: Myers on Hubbs, _Guarding Greensboro_

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  • Amos J Wright
    ... From: H-NET List for Southern History [mailto:H-SOUTH@H-NET.MSU.EDU] On Behalf Of Ian Binnington Sent: Tuesday, December 05, 2006 7:11 AM To:
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 5, 2006
      -----Original Message-----
      From: H-NET List for Southern History [mailto:H-SOUTH@...] On
      Behalf Of Ian Binnington
      Sent: Tuesday, December 05, 2006 7:11 AM
      To: H-SOUTH@...
      Subject: H-South Review: Myers on Hubbs, _Guarding Greensboro_

      H-NET BOOK REVIEW
      Published by H-South@... (November 2006)

      G. Ward Hubbs. _Guarding Greensboro: A Confederate Company in the Making

      of a Southern Community_. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2003. xi
      + 325 pp. Tables, maps, notes, bibliography, index. $34.95 (cloth), ISBN

      0-8203-2505-8.

      Reviewed for H-South by Barton A. Myers, Department of History,
      University of Georgia

      Creating Community in Civil War Era Alabama?

      In _Guarding Greensboro_, G. Ward Hubbs offers a thought-provoking
      analysis of how white settlers living on the west-central Alabama
      frontier during the nineteenth century forged a "community" at
      Greensboro from a disparate collection of self-interested
      individualists. Hubbs argues that between 1819, when Greensboro was
      founded, and the end of the Civil War the local militia company became
      the rallying point for the formation of community solidarity. He
      asserts that between an early stage of self-interested individualism and

      a later period of coherent community was an intervening phase where
      individualists gradually joined voluntary organizations, one of which
      was the Greensboro Guards. Central to Hubbs's overall argument is that
      the experience of the Civil War and the service of the Greensboro Guards

      militia company played the key role in the formation of strong bonds of
      local loyalty.

      Hubbs's work looks not at the destruction of community, as many other
      scholars have done for the Civil War period, but at how and when
      community-building took place. The author's account focuses primarily
      on the white male settlers that populated Greensboro and the surrounding

      area of Greene County and not on the slaves and women, who he argues
      played little role in creating civic community. Hubbs demonstrates that

      early frontier Greensboro was not known for "community," which he
      defines as a social network of "enduring commitments" to a larger group
      (p. xiii). To the contrary, early Greensboro was known for gambling,
      land accumulation, greed, violence, and vice. The author views the laws

      suits growing out of the 1837 financial panic as evidence of an absence
      of community; Hubbs shows only "transient and autonomous self-seekers"
      during this founding period.

      During the second phase of community-building, Hubbs explains how a
      series of voluntary associations emerged in Greensboro including the
      Free Masons, local churches, and the Greensboro Guards. According to
      Hubbs, the evangelical churches that infiltrated west-central Alabama in

      the 1810s and 1820s were elitist groups, organizations people joined
      only to make financial ties. Hubbs's argument here reminds us of
      William Faulkner's Thomas Sutpen darkening the door of the church only
      to find a bride in Rosa Coldfield. During the 1830s and 1840s, Hubbs
      sees the cooperation between overlapping voluntary associations as a
      period of integration and consolidation. He points to the failure of
      townspeople to bring the railroad as evidence of limited commitment to
      the community as a whole. In the end, however, he believes one
      association--the local militia company--rose above the rest to become
      the symbol of Greensboro.

      The militia company that played a central role in Hubbs's assessment of
      community development formed in 1823, following the Denmark Vesey slave
      insurrection in Charleston, South Carolina. The company participated in

      the 1836 Creek War, but it did not leave the town for the Mexican War.
      Hubbs argues that the Greensboro Guards were already so attached to the
      town in 1846 that they did not want to leave. By the end of the
      antebellum period, the Guards represented the community because they
      have played a central role in its protection from Indians and slaves.

      Hubbs's argument that community had not yet formed in Greensboro until
      the late antebellum period does have its limitations. While the author
      argues that there was not a strong community bond until the last two or
      three years of the antebellum period, he does present some contradictory

      evidence. Greensboro's citizens gathered for a major celebration of
      George Washington's Birthday in 1832, which seems to signify an
      emotional bond to something larger than self-interested individualism.
      Likewise, the Greensboro Guards' decision not to serve in the Mexican
      War signifies some level of local attachment. Hubbs believes that the
      community was only in a budding stage when Southern University was
      formally established in 1857, thirty-five years after the founding of
      Greensboro. This event seems more like the culmination rather than the
      beginning of community formation. Furthermore, the failure to bring the

      railroad to Greensboro was not unique or necessarily evidence for a lack

      of strong community ties, as even well-established communities on the
      eastern seaboard of the South were unable to attract railroads due to
      limited funds.

      The citizens of Greensboro strongly supported the Whig Party and the
      Know Nothings during the 1850s. According to Hubbs, this left a brief
      legacy of Unionism during the secession period. Greensborians
      overwhelmingly supported John Bell in the Presidential election of
      1860. Hubbs, however, contends that the strong Unionism of the late
      antebellum period quickly evaporated across the black belt and in Greene

      County once secession was underway. Hubbs believes that by 1861,
      despite some evidence of lingering Unionism, most people in Greensboro
      were united by a common support for the Greensboro Guards and the
      attempt to build a Confederate nation. According to the author, those
      few dissenters that remained were quickly ostracized or forced out.

      During the war, the Greensboro Guards became Company D of the
      hard-fighting Fifth Alabama Infantry, which saw action in virtually
      every major campaign of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.
      Hubbs argues that the driving motivation for most of these Alabamans was

      a desire to preserve the personal liberty of free white men (p. 103).
      Furthermore, Hubbs asserts that Greensboro's community spirit remained
      strong while soldiers were at the front. During the early part of the
      war, the Guards were involved in several important military actions.
      They lost men at Seven Pines and were virtually decimated at Gaines Mill

      and Malvern Hill during the Peninsula Campaign. Remaining members of
      the company were captured at South Mountain in September 1862. But,
      gradually men returned to the ranks where they participated in the
      famous "Stonewall" Jackson flank attack at Chancellorsville. In the
      aftermath of Chancellorsville, only thirty-five men remained.
      Throughout the conflict, Hubbs asserts that the men corresponded with
      the people at home through letters to the local newspaper, which shored
      up community commitment to the cause.

      The final years of the war were hard for all of Greensboro's citizens.
      After the defeat at Gettysburg, the impact of the war on civilians back
      home in Alabama grew severe. Many soldiers at the front began to see
      Greensboro as a refuge from the war. Some women in Greensboro had
      doubts about the war, but according to Hubbs, they stayed committed to
      the Confederacy. Nevertheless, careful readers will find some evidence
      for the type of dissent Drew Gilpin Faust found in her _Mothers of
      Invention_ (1996). Hubbs traces mass desertion in July 1863, yet finds
      only four deserters among the Greensboro Guards. By 1864, the Alabama
      home front was collapsing, but the Fifth Alabama continued to fight on
      at Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, in the Shenandoah Valley
      Campaign, and at the siege of Petersburg. Only one member of the Guard
      remained by the surrender at Appomattox. Ultimately, Hubbs believes
      that the men of Greensboro feared a race war and fought to the bitter
      end to prevent this. As far as the citizens on the home front are
      concerned, Hubbs's argument mirrors the work of William Blair in
      _Virginia's Private War_ (1996), which also argued that, despite serious

      economic hardship, southerners remained committed to Confederate
      nationalism until the end of the war.

      At the heart of this well thought-out community study is the question:
      how much individual interaction and voluntary association make
      community? This is where Hubbs's notion of community is a little too
      slippery. Hubbs allows the reader to see community only when he wants
      them to see it and not simply when groups of people from all walks of
      life came together to celebrate an event or work together to form an
      institution. In light of this, Thomas Bender's definition of community
      should remain the gold standard. In a masterful work on community
      studies theory _Community and Social Change in America_ (1978), Bender
      (borrowing from Ferdinand Tonnies) defined two types of communities,
      _gemeinschaft_ and _gesellschaft_. The small town living of
      _gemeinschaft_ was characterized by "a network of social relations
      marked by mutuality and emotional bonds" and the big city experience of
      _gesellschaft_ by "an artificial construction of an aggregate of human
      beings characterized by competition and impersonality."[1] Bender
      further argued that communities typically evolve from _gemeinschaft_ to
      _gesellschaft_. But, Hubbs contends the opposite for Greensboro; he
      sees the locality evolving from "voluntary associations" to "traditional

      notions of loyalty" over time, a reverse of Bender's process (p. 300).
      While Hubbs does address Bender in his work, he does not convincingly
      demonstrate the absence of a Bender-like _gemeinschaft_ community in
      Greensboro during the entire antebellum period.

      Another question emerges from how Hubbs frames his analysis. He argues
      that self-interest was antithetical to community-building in
      Greensboro. But, could self-interest have actually been community in
      Greensboro? Southern historians have argued that individualism has been

      a dominant trait of southerners growing out of the frontier experience,
      but does it necessarily follow that no community exists where
      individualism is strongest? Clearly, communities dominated by
      self-interested individuals could thrive in the South, otherwise the
      Whig Party and the national market would not have penetrated sections of

      the southern countryside during the antebellum years. Could the
      self-interest of some members of a community in fact bring greater
      cohesion and loyalty to the whole by providing benefits like internal
      improvements and educational institutions to local places?

      While some of the evidence Hubbs presents contradicts his central
      argument that a united community was absent in antebellum Greensboro,
      Hubbs has produced an interesting and nuanced narrative that deserves
      high praise. Hubbs is arguing for more reflective thought when
      historians use the term "community" and for this he should be
      commended. Hubbs forces us to think in spatial terms about when and
      where community developed in the South, and community studies historians

      should strive to produce such conscientious theoretical frameworks.
      Nineteenth-century community studies scholars and Civil War historians
      of all backgrounds should move Hubbs's study of Greensboro into the must

      read column of their book lists.

      Note

      [1]. Thomas Bender, _Community and Social Change in America_
      (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978), pp. 7, 17.


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