The defeat of the Confederacy should have ushered in a period of national renewal and reconstruction driven by Lincolns’ idea that a more perfect Union was still possible. But it did not.
In Civil War by Other Means, Jeremi Suri, shows how the victory of the Union was never secure and the resistance to it began immediately. Key Confederate figures fled to exile in Mexico after their defeat and returned when they could safely resume their former lives once the threat of Northern domination had been quashed. Many antebellum influences and attitudes, lived on secretly and their creeping influence gradually overwhelmed Lincoln’s vision for a more progressive and egalitarian America. The Civil War, in short, was never completely over for the defeated; they pursued it through guile, stealth, and persistence, outlasting the resolve of the northern interlopers and returning the South to its retrogressive customs and habits.
Tracing the pivotal years between President Lincoln's assassination in 1865 and President Garfield's in 1881, Suri presents a thorough account of how the hope of Reconstruction and a unified nation quickly disintegrated. This time, rather than a battle at Bull Run, Shiloh or Gettysburg, the country's differences played out in the streets, Congress and state legislatures. From the first-post war riots to the return of Confederate exiles to the impeachment of Andrew Johnson to the highly contested and consequential election of 1876, Suri explores the conflicts and questions Americans wrestled with as competing visions of democracy, slavery and freedom came to a vicious breaking point. What emerges is a vivid, and at times unsettling, portrait of a country attempting to rebuild itself into a more perfect union but instead unable to compromise on or adhere to the most basic democratic tenets.