Redemption: The last Battle of the Civil War is a book written by Nicholas Lemann. The book basically discusses American history with a bias to racism and racial violence in the 1800s in the United States. The author opens the account of this historic period with an incidence of racial violence. The book trails the life of Adelbert Ames who was a general during the civil war and was later appointed a provisional governor of postwar Mississippi, later a senator for the same state in 1870 and then a governor in 1873. The author explains an incident in Colfax, Louisiana in which white militia comprising of confederate veterans, that had turned into vigilantes attacked member of the black community living there and massacred hundreds of them. This incident changed the course of American history in which white Southern Democrats engaged the government in political terrorism in an attempt to overturn the Fourteenth and the Fifteenth Amendments and also challenge President Hiram Grant’s support of black political power. This book explains in detail accounts of racial violence by white extremists who sought to establish white supremacy with trickery, violence and blatant racism. In this book, the author is trying to prove that America’s democracy emerged from a period of racial violence. Besides telling readers about the history of America, the author is trying to argue that prior to the peace, democracy and non-racism that exists in the contemporary American society, America experienced extreme racism of which authorities and ordinary Americans should always be vigilant.
This book discusses in depth aspects of American history that are vital to the understanding of the present day America. The author of the book is Mr. Nicholas Lemann. He is the dean School of Journalism at Columbia University. Besides this book, Mr. Lemann has authored two other books – a prize-winning book titled The Promised Land and another one titled The Big Test (1999). In the book Redemption: The last Battle of the Civil War, Lemann majors on one incident of racial violence that took place in Colfax, Louisiana in Easter of 1873. He dwells on this incident and refers to it as the “last battle of the civil war” because it was a major turning point in the push by White Americans to lock African Americans from being given political power by the then President, Hiram Grant. In the first pages of the book, it tells the story of Redemption in reference to General Ames who was the last general officer of the civil war to die. General Adelbert Ames died at the age of 97 in 1933 and he is the main character in the book Redemption: The last Battle of the Civil War. The author presents General Ames as a pacifying figure during the civil war and one that made significant contributions in leading American forces to restore peace among warring communities in the South. Though Ames worked hard to protect the freed men, he failed because the federal government grew weary of maintaining soldiers in the Southern States and also failed to enforce law and order (Lemann, 104-105). White Southerners soon learnt that they could get away with atrocities such as torture and murder against black people (Lemann, 30). Through such accounts, the author warns against laxity by authorities to contain violence. Lemann argues that were it not for federal officials who took a back seat at the initial stages of the civil war, the war would not have escalated. Further, the author states that reign of terror on African Americans seemed to have been codified into the infamous “Jim Crow Laws”.
Lemann wrote a very informative book. Though there are some instances that I found irrelevant and I was unable to comprehend properly, I appreciate the quality and delivery of overall message. I can equate reading this book to taking bitter medicine. While it contains important information that makes me feel more patriotic it tells of tragic and torturous events that led to the deaths of thousands of people especially in the Colfax massacre. Earlier in school, I had heard about “carpetbaggers” and “Scalawags” but they were painted in bad light and that is what I had come to believe about those people. However, after reading this book, I realized that the whites who tortured, terrorized and murdered reconstructionists were by far, worse people. I found it quite ironical that when history was recorded, the Whites who were responsible for gruesome murders, became heroes of the Civil War era. Historians believed the myths that white extremists peddled. The criminalization of people who were actually victims sets a bad precedence in which current generations are denied knowledge of the full weight of racism and other social evils in our history. According to Lemann, telling the truth about what transpired in events such as the Colfax massacre is a proper though bitter way to root out elements of racism and increase patriotism.
Lemann, Nicholas. Redemption: the last battle of the Civil War. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007. Print.