[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-CivWar]: Stith on Mauldin, 'Unredeemed Land: An Environmental History of Civil War and Emancipation in the Cotton South'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Thu Jul 11 12:50:44 MDT 2019

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From: H-Net Staff via H-REVIEW <h-review at lists.h-net.org>
Date: Wed, Jul 10, 2019 at 8:52 AM
Subject: H-Net Review [H-CivWar]: Stith on Mauldin, 'Unredeemed Land: An
Environmental History of Civil War and Emancipation in the Cotton South'
To: <h-review at lists.h-net.org>
Cc: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.org>

Erin Stewart Mauldin.  Unredeemed Land: An Environmental History of
Civil War and Emancipation in the Cotton South.  New York  Oxford
University Press, 2018.  256 pp.  $35.00 (cloth), ISBN

Reviewed by Matthew M. Stith (University of Texas at Tyler)
Published on H-CivWar (July, 2019)
Commissioned by G. David Schieffler

The best ideas often refocus our attention on what was there all
along. Erin Stewart Mauldin's _Unredeemed Land_ is no exception. At
its heart, Mauldin's work is a story of the tumultuous evolution of
the cotton South from 1840 to 1880 through a carefully focused
environmental, primarily agricultural, lens. Along with R. Douglas
Hurt's _Agriculture and the Confederacy: Policy, Productivity, and
Power in the Civil War South_ (2015), Mauldin's contribution is among
the first to fully examine southern agriculture and landscapes and
how they shaped the war--and how they were shaped by it. While Hurt
focuses primarily on the Civil War years, Mauldin places the cotton
South in wider chronological perspective. Few works on the Civil War
South do not, at least in the periphery, invoke landscapes,
agriculture, or the environment in general. To be sure, the South's
natural and built environment underscored the military, political,
cultural, and economic course of the conflict. But, to date,
surprisingly little attention has been allotted to the environment as
a key, perhaps _the_ key, player in influencing the war and its
aftermath. To this end, Mauldin injects fresh and valuable insight
into our understanding of the interplay between southern agriculture
and the Civil War.

The Civil War era marked a significant shift in the natural and
economic contours of southern landscapes. Mauldin makes clear that
the war highlighted inherent weaknesses in the southern agricultural
system--problems that had been masked and "delayed by territorial
expansion and the use of slave labor to create and maintain
agricultural landscapes" (p. 9). In sum, she explains, the southern
system needed to grow to live. Built squarely on agriculture-based
slavery, the prewar South relied on continuous expansion and land
exploitation to survive. The war exacerbated and accelerated the
built environment's devolution, leaving in its wake a shattered land
and broken economy. For Mauldin, the conflict "drastically altered
the rhythms of southern agricultural life and livelihood by
accelerating prewar environmental change, removing necessary
resources and labor, and preventing expansion" (p. 160).

Environmental historians of the Civil War have made clear the
environment's ubiquitous role in the conflict. Mauldin appropriately
engages this historiographical discussion, and she contends that
wartime southern agriculture served at once to help Union soldiers
and to hurt their Confederate counterparts. Free range livestock,
food crops, fence rails, and a variety of other agricultural products
helped supply occupying federal armies. By mid-war, the slave-based
labor system that had sustained southern agriculture began to
dissolve. And the South's dogged reliance on a primarily
agricultural, slave-based economy meant that other necessities for
war might only come from a great distance. The Union blockade and
protruding military movements deep into the South effectively
rendered such supply chains problematic. For Mauldin, all this "made
the region particularly vulnerable to standard military practices"
and "helps to explain why the South was affected so dramatically by
the Civil War" (p. 160). She is right. A society and culture based so
intensely on the built environment will invariably fall much harder
when war is focused as much on the home front as on the battlefront.

Although the land's war wounds quickly healed, they were reopened by
intensive, exploitive, and expansive agricultural practices in the
decades following the war. This era of "King Cotton" flooded the
market with far more cotton than ever before. It reoriented the
political, social, and racial systems nearer prewar levels with a new
energy toward white southern redemption. But it also brought the
southern agricultural system (and the southern environment) to its
knees. Indeed, as Mauldin argues, "because of the ecological legacies
of the Civil War and emancipation, the southern environment remained
unredeemed" (p. 7). Such analysis of the New South's direct and
problematic ties to prewar southern agricultural practices and
destructive wartime changes serves as a useful addition to our
understanding of postwar southern politics and culture.

Historians too often lose sight of the environment for what happened
because of it._ Unredeemed Land_ helps correct this. Agriculture, and
nature generally, formed the nucleus of the nineteenth-century South
and the Civil War. Politics, economics, warfare, and all other
factors revolved around, atop, and because of the environment.
Mauldin's greatest contribution is the clarity with which she conveys
an unbroken narrative about a broken slave-based agricultural
system--and the southern environment in general--that served as the
cornerstone for the causes, course, and consequences of the Civil

Citation: Matthew M. Stith. Review of Mauldin, Erin Stewart,
_Unredeemed Land: An Environmental History of Civil War and
Emancipation in the Cotton South_. H-CivWar, H-Net Reviews. July,
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=53720

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

Best regards,

Andrew Stewart

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