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The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  324 ratings  ·  63 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, 322 pages
Published February 1st 2008 by Viking Books (first published January 24th 2008)
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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
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: history, 2012reads
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
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
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
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
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.
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. ...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. ...more
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. ...more
Johnny McAllister
Feb 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Should be required reading for all South Carolina High School Graduates, Members of The South Carolina General Assembly, Judiciary and Constitutional Officers!
Clay Davis
Jan 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book gives a detailed story on the ways things were after the Civil War.
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
Alexandra Skokandic
Oct 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Eye-opening... This disturbing chapter of American history is poorly understood and often passed over, which is especially troubling because of how relevant much of it still is today. As a teenager in Pennsylvania in the 2000s, I went to school with people who absolutely insisted that the Civil War was only about "states' rights," and nothing else. It's chilling to read predictions from the late 1800s that the acts of terrorism and violence perpetrated against African Americans and their white d ...more
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
Mara Dolan
read upon recommendation from a friend! wish I was able to integrate it into a history class/discussion as there was lots of coming up for me around how this historian/writer works to illuminate pieces of how Southern (white) resistance to Reconstruction looked and happened that I wanted to be in conversation about. i appreciated the narrative-driven style of writing. the story of white terrorism after the Confederacy was defeated - and federal deference and inability to address it - should obvi ...more
Victoria Meade
Jul 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I typically find it very difficult to get through historical work of any kind, be it fiction or not. This book was an incredible read, and I found myself flying through it more quickly than any other book of its kind. War and political hardship are not two of my favorite topics. But I read this to gain a different perspective on the Civil War than I was taught in school, and the book succeeded in this effort. Truly gripping reading, and I highly encourage anyone interested in the Civil War to re ...more
May 19, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Masterwork. This book should be the companion piece to Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880. It fills in the often omitted gaps that scholastic American history ignores. A must read for all Freedman and their descendants, or anyone interested in American Freedman history. ...more
Sep 25, 2021 rated it really liked it
This is a hard-hitting book that pulls no punches in grappling with the ex-Confederate obstruction and use of terrorism to essentially overturn the results of the Civil War. It's a tough read because of the content, but the violence aimed at Black Americans and their allies in this period of our history is something that every American needs to know about. ...more
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. ...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).
Dec 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I read this based on a suggestion from one of my professors. Budiansky makes the point my that the Union lost a counterinsurgency during reconstruction. As a nation we missed an incredible opportunity to heal.
Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Powerful, brutal, and painfully relevant
Oct 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Gut wrenching read.
Jan 07, 2022 rated it really liked it
Informative, though pretty academic, this book explores the theatres of conflict after the Civil War very well.
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.
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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.

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