Civil War students and enthusiasts interested on what life was like before and during the Civil War in the South will delight in this book about Savannah, Georgia, and the surrounding region. In Saving Savannah, Jacqueline Jones lays bare the lives of the whites and the black slaves of the period.
Savannah’s climate presented a major impediment to healthy living for both whites and blacks. Malaria, yellow fever and other diseases made living in Savannah and its environs a risky proposition. Slaves, of course, had no choice concerning where they lived. They were used for the hard, sweaty job of raising and harvesting cotton and rice. Slaves were valuable to their white masters, who left the hard labor to their slaves instead of them lowering themselves to that sort of work. Besides, the blacks seemed better equipped to work in those kinds of climates - at least that was the prevailing white opinion.
Jones covers the social, economic, religious, and political sides of life of both black and white social strata in and around Savannah. Blacks, especially free blacks, had their own political systems and society; slaves also got involved in it if they could. Slaves were allowed to own some animals and do some gardening; some free blacks even owned a slave or two. Some bought their freedom by selling their own vegetables and other items they were free to accumulate after they had finished their work for their masters.
When the Civil War came, Jefferson Davis’s central Confederate government found out that Georgia would absolutely not budge on states’ rights. The governor and other strong-minded Georgia politicians only grudgingly allowed some Georgia troops to fight outside of their home state since they believed that Georgia needed these troops to protect Georgia, not for them to be off in Virginia or elsewhere.
Jones examines the lives of plantation families, families that lived in Savannah, and those who lived on small amounts of land, and she shows how free and enslaved blacks lived in Savannah itself. The city was dependent on overseas trade with Europe or with the North, so shipping played an important role in Savannah’s economy. Blockade runners came in and out of Savannah. The city also had a fort, Fort Pulaski, which the Union easily bombarded into submission to control Savannah’s harbor in conjunction with the North’s naval blockade.
Saving Savannah is not a quick read. Jones narrative history is rich in detail, but that is hardly a negative thing. It may not be overly exciting to read, but it does provide abundant information about Savannah before, during and after the Civil War. Many endnotes and a sumptuous bibliography of primary and secondary sources are included, as are pertinent Internet sites (based on an uncorrected proof, there are also to be five maps and 16 pages of photographs). Much research went into the writing of this book, and it is a good addition to the body of work on slavery, Southern cities, plantations and related topics.
Jacqueline Jones is a winner of the Bancroft Prize for her book Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow (1985) and is the Harry S. Truman Professor of American History at Brandeis University. She is the author of the forthcoming fourth edition of Created Equal (2009), The Dispossessed (1992), Soldiers of Light and Love (1980) and other books. Saving Savannah is recommended for academic and public libraries’ sections on the Civil War and to those interested in a Southern city before, during, and after the American Civil War.