In case you are wondering why the odd entries lately (i.e., not a lot of direct research reporting), it is because I’m grading final papers and on Thanksgiving break at my in-laws’.
There are 29 people (17 children from 16 on down) in my in-laws’ house this week. Eight dogs. Four cats.
Emmett had a large family too — there were 10 children — and I can imagine what holidays were like for him, too, with a house full of siblings and relatives. But being around double-digit family members was routine for him. I think Emmett and his family would laugh at me with my four kids and six chickens, when I sometimes think my world gets crowded, except if we compared Thanksgivings. My family’s stats could EASILY best the Wilsons.
At present, I’m in an area surrounded by a lot of Civil War history, which is appropriate, because on the road trip down, I was able to get halfway through a book about the Reconstruction years, and it is incredibly good. I’ll share more with you about where I am and its relation to my work on Emmett Wilson’s story (because there is a connection). But for now, I’d like to tell you about this book I’m reading.
The Day Dixie Died, by Thomas and Debra Goodrich focuses on a very small time period (1865-66), and does not present a ‘politically correct’ account of post-Civil War life.
I found this book in my search for details about what Emmett’s father, Dr. Frank Wilson and his family, would have seen, heard, endured immediately after the war. This fits the bill exactly.
The authors use many primary sources (diaries, letters, other first-hand accounts) and let the participants tell the story. You don’t see the authors’ voices in here often, which is good (I find that distracting when I read history).
The Goodrich’s book paints a troubling — and very real — picture of what the survivors of the war endured. They included letters, photos, interviews and the like from every side in the Civil War — black, white, soldier, civilian, North, South. You get a very well rounded, clear understanding of the sociological mindset of this period, which is exactly what I was looking for — and to be honest, I was shocked at what I read.
I say that because most of what I’d seen up until doing this research on Emmett Wilson is what I’d call ‘revisionist history’; there are many books out there that paint a more positive (for lack of better description) view of Reconstruction in the U.S. (this affected the whole country, not just the South).
Reading this book made me think that if we, today, are truly interested in the future of our country, we can’t pretend that the past was anything other than what it was, and that our country endured the horrific. We also can’t turn away from knowing exactly what that horrific was; else we are doomed to repeat it.
Reading this book also makes me wonder how the hell our country survived Reconstruction — something to be thankful for this week.