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An unprecedented account of one of the bloodiest and most significant racial clashes in American history
In May 1866, just a year after the Civil War ended, Memphis erupted in a three-day spasm of racial violence that saw whites rampage through the city's black neighborhoods. By the time the fires consuming black churches and schools were put out, forty-six freed people had been murdered. Congress, furious at this and other evidence of white resistance in the conquered South, launched what is now called Radical Reconstruction, policies to ensure the freedom of the region's four million blacks—and one of the most remarkable experiments in American history.
Stephen V. Ash's A Massacre in Memphis is a portrait of a Southern city that opens an entirely new view into the Civil War and its aftermath. A momentous national event, the riot is also remarkable for being "one of the best-documented episodes of the American nineteenth century." Yet Ash is the first to mine the sources available to full effect. Bringing postwar Memphis to vivid life, he shows us newly arrived Yankees, former Rebels, boisterous Irish immigrants, and striving freed people, and how Americans of the period worked, prayed, expressed their politics, imagined the future, and how they died. Ash's harrowing and profoundly moving present-tense narration of the riot has the immediacy of the best journalism.
Told with nuance, grace, and a quiet moral passion, A Massacre in Memphis is Civil War–era history like no other.
Stephen V. Ash is a professor emeritus of history at the University of Tennessee. He is the author of Firebrand of Liberty, A Year in the South and other books on the Civil War era. He lives in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Maps of 1866 Memphis
Prologue: Memphis, Tennessee, May 22–24, 1866
Part I: A City Divided
1. Yankee Memphis
2. Rebel Memphis
3. Irish Memphis
4. Black Memphis
Part II: The Riot
5. An Incident on the Bayou Bridge: Monday, April 30, Midafternoon to Tuesday, May 1, Late Afternoon
6. “You Have Killed Him Once, What Do You Want to Kill Him Again For?”: Tuesday, May 1, Late Afternoon to Wednesday, May 2, First Light
7. Fire: Wednesday, May 2, Early Morning to Thursday, May 3, Dawn
Part III: The Aftermath
8. Recriminations and Investigations
9. The Riot in History and Memory