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The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  264 ratings  ·  54 reviews
An intimate and gripping look at terrorist violence during the Reconstruction era

Between 1867, when the defeated South was forced to establish new state governments that fully represented both black and white citizens, and 1877, when the last of these governments was overthrown, more than three thousand African Americans and their white allies were killed by terrorist vi
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published January 24th 2008 by Viking Adult
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Igor Ljubuncic
It pains me not to finish a book by Stephen Budiansky, but I just couldn't. Not because it is bad. It's just a very difficult read, theme and style. Most of the evidence for what happened after the American Civil Wars comes from stories, mostly by less educated people. Reading one badly spelled letter after another, one sad tale after another is simply soul-eroding. Exhausting. There's a lot of emotion in the book, maybe even too much. Unlike most other topics, this one is still very much releva ...more
May 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I, as a school teacher, believe that this book and it's subject should be required reading for all high school students. It is about the terrorism that the blacks and their supports faced in the South after the Civil War.

This book covers the history that is not taught in our schools in the United States. It deals with the fact that the South did not go quietly compliant after the Civil War and accept defeat. This is the ugly side of our history that our country wants to ignore and to forget, th
Apr 04, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Civil War, post Civil War readers.
My hat goes off to Mr. Budiansky for writing a sad and harrowing tale of terrorism on America's home front immediately following the Civil War.

This book holds your attention throughout, retelling the stories of a few of the people, black and white, who tried to create a new society in the old Confederacy. To say they were tilting at windmills is to put it mildly.

Those of you who have read Eric Foner's dry tome about Reconstruction will find this book a perfect supplement. Unfortunately, Profes
Oct 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012reads, history
Much has been written about the military aspect of the Civil War but little of the war ideology. After you read Stephen Budiansky's book "The Bloody Shirt: Terror after Appomattox" the causes and reasons for the horrific destruction make more sense. The authors written snapshots of the atrocities, hatred and brutality of the Dixie’s best citizens are presented in a way that lays the foundation of the bigotry of the South for a hundred years followong the war between the States. Focusing on thre ...more
Just incredibly well-written and devastating to read. The perfect introduction to just how brutal and nakedly treasonous Reconstruction was, should be required school reading.
Aug 10, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm not entirely sure if the overly dramatic and emotional way in which this book was presented is more due to the narrator or the author and the selections chosen by the author. Either way I was disappointed with this book.

It addresses an interesting and important topic and while I generally have no objections to narrative histories which make extensive use of contemporary sources to help tell the story, the effect here was counter productive. In the case of the worst chapters, it seems the au
This book was good, but good for what it was, not what could've and probably should've been. It begins with a concise, if somewhat foreboding, synopsis of the causes, effects, and outright horror of the post-Civil War reconstruction period in the southern states. It then begins a litany of those horrors visited upon ex-slaves, "carpet baggers", and Republican radicals wheresoever they might be hunted down. These terrifying events are related in scrupulously researched, stomach turning detail -- ...more
Mar 08, 2008 rated it it was ok
I must say that while I do agree, for the most part, with his politics on Reconstruction; betrayals and downright Southern nastiness, this guy doesn't let the reader get a break from superfluous spiteful commentary after using great quotes and examples that more than prove his point. He clearly hates the South for their feelings of entitlement to be slave masters (which I too can hate) but his anger is behind every word of his narrative and I just got tired of reading. It became more of a rant t ...more
May 03, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If asked about "racial cleansing", most people today might think about the Serbs in Kosovo or the Tutsis in Rwanda, or the Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq. This book, "The Bloody Shirt", brings elements of those conflicts closer to home, and describes in vivid detail the terror imposed upon the freed slaves in the South after the War Between the States / Civil War here in the United States. Gripping descriptions of terror and fear of life for the freed blacks at the time, and for years after. A worth ...more
May 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
I always knew Reconstruction was difficult -- especially for freed slaves. But this book really gives you a better sense of just how bad it was and why the federal government essentially gave up trying to reform the South by 1877. The book focuses more on white, Northern Republicans ("carbetbaggers") than African-Americans, which I feel is not the book's strength, but in spite of that, it was an excellent overview of the challenges of the time period.
May 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: david-s-shelf
If you've ever had qualms about visiting the American deep south, then this book will not ease your fears. But, the north doesn't come off too well either. Well researched and carefully constructed this carefully and well-written documentary about the unfortunately labelled "Reconstruction" period of American history shows how well-meaning men and women can so easily give in to the reactionary and downright evil forces around them. A lesson that certainly is not amiss today.
Alan Taber
Mar 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Just finished this last night - as a kid growing up in Tennessee and Delaware in the 1980's, somehow the reality of Reconstruction never got taught, beyond the carpetbaggers and "40 acres and a mule." This book opened my eyes to what really happened and I am grateful. Budiansky has a gift for clear writing that show the historical figures through their writing and the details of their lives, can't wait to read more by him.
Mike Bauldree
Jul 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
An enlightening discussion that documents how the South was able to send itself back into the stone ages because of their inability to accept freedmen as citizens during the turbulent post-Civil War "reconstruction" era.

The same Southerners who started the Civil War were able (by insighting racial fears among its citizenry) to eventually become the govenors, senators and mayors of the South. As a result, the "freedmen" were forced back into a life that was tantamount to slavery.
Steve Kohn
Feb 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I wonder if your high school history classes were like mine, with Reconstruction given a brief mention after the exhaustion of teaching the Civil War.

I came away with sympathy for the South. "Carpetbaggers." "Scalawags." "Northern Occupiers."

And my high school was in Pennsylvania, not Mississippi.

Last night I finished THE BLOODY SHIRT, about the ten years in the South after the end of the Civil War. It's not an exhaustive, academic history of that period. Instead, the author relates the stories
Jun 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Budiansky has pieced together a number of stories of brutality towards blacks and their white supporters during the period from 1865-1876. The tales are horrific. He quotes letters and articles in newspapers so that you can see what people thought in their own words. It is breathtakingly ugly. I found each section compelling. After a while I began to feel that I had gotten the point and didn't need to run into more nasty people. By covering these stories and not the larger political story, Budia ...more
Oct 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Solid read about white terror post-civil war. The reader can't but help draw connections between the impunity of that time seeding white supremacist impunity today.

Does a great service for a period of history often glossed over and told from the side of the loser (racist southerners).
Michael Kocher
Jun 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A little slow at times but it is a must read. Reconstruction has all but been wiped out of the public consciousness and this book gets to the heart of the racism and lust for blood that fueled it. It is all first hand sources so any accusation of an agenda on Budiansky's behalf are unfounded.
Andrew Tollemache
Sep 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
Budiansky's "The Bloody Shirt" is a fascinating, yet heartbreaking book about the decade or so after the Civil War where Southern whites made use of extensive tactics to pushback and overturn there Reconstruction efforts imposed by the Union after the Lee surrendered at Appomattox. Groups like KKK, the White League and any number of Confederate Veterans groups and "Rifle Clubs" fought what can only be deemed a sustained guerrilla type insurgent war. From 1865 until the 1880s these groups killed ...more
Sep 29, 2016 rated it did not like it
Long-winded and rambling, this book begins dry and ends dry notwithstanding the gravity of the themes woven throughout.
Jan 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Another piece of essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how we managed to "win" the Civil War and lose both the peace and racial equality for black people. This is the Reconstruction they didn't teach us in history class, because the (still, when I was growing up)White Supremacist South didn't want us to know. The romantic fantasy of The Lost Cause is thoroughly debunked by the list of atrocities and violations of Freedmen after the war...turns out, even one of my favorite novels ( ...more
Aug 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
I agonized over how I should rate this book. I was a little disappointed with the way that Budiansky organizes his material. I felt that the book would have been a better account (and a better read) if he hadn't tied so much of his narrative to the handful of historical actors on whom he focuses. That said, this book presents a harrowing account of terrorist attacks by Southern whites on black freedmen and their white allies.

Some readers might object to the term "terrorism," but there is no oth
Dale Kurtz
Feb 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
As a retired high school history teacher I was aware of the issues of Reconstruction after the Civil War. I was aware that the South tried to slip by the new reality of having to follow the laws of the United States and to keep the former slaves powerless and that the Radical Republicans had to take more direct action. But I never realized the outright lawlessness of the South as it resisted the laws and Constitution of the land. In telling the story the author makes such a powerful statement by ...more
Jan 18, 2015 rated it liked it
At the risk of sounding incredibly naïve, the revelations in The Bloody Shirt, author Stephen Budiansky's 2008 exposition on the terrorism following Appomattox, were nearly too horrifying to believe. Yet, page after page, Budiansky documents an on-going and widely orchestrated attack on freedom in the Reconstruction Era South.

I've grown accustomed to the Southern apologists who cry state's rights and Northern aggression, or remind everyone of the South's genteel legacy that was lost. After one h
I feel as though through the subject matter alone I should give this book five stars, if only so people might be more inclined to read it and realise the true horrors of Reconstruction in the post-Civil War South. This sad recounting of misery, brutality, murder and sheer inhumanity of the Southern whites towards the freed slaves was truly monstrous to read: if the brutalised freedmen had risen up and massacred every last one of their persecutors it would have been justifiable homicide. Truly, i ...more
Jul 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
At the very least, this is one of the best history books I read this year, although the author often relied on his primary sources to speak for themselves, without sufficient commentary. This book covers the Reconstruction era of the American South by focusing on several people, from northerners to a Confederate General, who put their fortunes, reputations, and lives at stake in order to build the South, only to be chased out by bigotry, hatred, and violence. Actively fighting the idea that the ...more
Sep 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
The Union military won the Civil War on the battlefield. However, Southern sympathizers in the government, as well as incompetent and uncaring officials provided white southerners to essentially re-enslave blacks within a decade after the war. This book covers incidents in South Carolina, Mississippi and Louisiana in the main. Southerners inverted their morality, disenfranchising voters by murder. mayhem, threats, intimidation, ballot box stuffing and strange voting registration and requirements ...more
Feb 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Should be mandatory reading, especially in the Southland! - a brutally honest look at the terrorist campaign that "redeemed" the Southland! It's a model of asymmetrical warfare - and it worked. The Confederate army might have surrendered at Appomattox but the plantation elites kept using a brutal revanchist strategy of terrorism against the occupation government until people up North get tired of the steady stream of dead soldiers returning from the Southland! and lose the will to finish the job ...more
Aug 16, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks, history
How many people think of Gone with the Wind type scenes of the south after the Civil War? Full of scalawags, carpetbaggers and other unsavory types trying to keep down the good people of the Confederacy?

No doubt that is a part of the picture, but then there is the rest of the story - that the south didn't go down quietly. Even before the Klan organized, there was guerrilla violence (and sometimes more overt warfare) against the US and its agents. This book depicts that part of Reconstruction usi
Aug 11, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A pretty good book about the South (mostly in MS and SC) after the Civil War ended and the conflicts between the whites and blacks and whites against the whites. There was the right amount of detail in some of the areas and characters and the author didn't get to involved in just typing or repeating things over and over.

The story of Hamburg and the last chapter was very interesting. I won't give it away, but what this book really says is that history or any events that happen are recorded or pre
May 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
Absolutely fascinating look at the post reconstruction period of the south. Well researched documentary style account of several well known individuals and confederate military leaders and their unsuccessful attempts to rebuild the south. The stories are well written and make an easy read.

I would recommend this highly to all interested in this period of history. The book may be a bit one sided in its reporting. However, this was overcome by the stories which I found to be startling; not recallin
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Historian and journalist STEPHEN BUDIANSKY is the author of twelve books about military history, science, and nature.

His latest book is THE BLOODY SHIRT: TERROR AFTER APPOMATTOX, which chronicles the struggles of five courageous men in the post-Civil War South as they battled a rising tide of terrorist violence aimed at usurping the newly won rights of the freedmen.