In This Review

Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War
Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War
By Nicholas Lemann
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2006, 272 pp.

Lemann offers a brisk but thoughtful account of one of the tragic failures in U.S. history: the failure of Reconstruction to consolidate a nonracial democracy in the South. The story focuses on Adelbert Ames, son-in-law of the much-hated Massachusetts radical Benjamin Butler. Caught between his father-in-law's political ambitions, mounting white resistance to democratic rule, Northern public opinion that was weary of war, and a president, Ulysses S. Grant, who had reluctantly concluded that Reconstruction could not be contained, Ames did his best to do his duty at an unpropitious time, but he was the last Republican governor in Mississippi for a century: violence and fraud restored the state to white Southern rule as Reconstruction collapsed across the South. Northern voters, unspeakably weary after years of turmoil, were no longer prepared to support the rule of law in the Southern states. This dismal story is a particularly timely read, as U.S. politicians and military leaders wrestle with the problems of Iraq. Republicans, it seems, are still very good at winning wars, but nation building is more problematic.