Dixie’s Great War
World War I and the American South
Edited by John M. Giggie and Andrew Huebner
University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 2020, 144 pages
Book Review published on: January 29, 2021
America’s entry into World War I is seen in popular culture as a grand adventure that saw stereotypical American men from different backgrounds thrown together to train and to fight overseas: the wise-cracking city slicker (usually from New York), the country boy (often the butt of jokes but clever in his own way), the recent immigrant (Irish or maybe Italian, always with a “funny” accent), the intellectual, the entertainer, the operator, etc. In the end, everyone learns to rely on each other and takes pride in their common, uniquely American designation as “doughboys.”
But for some groups and some regions, the “common experience” was not necessarily as common as one might imagine. Despite the Army’s mobilization plans (and in some cases, because of them), the South had its own unique war experience due to its perceived separate identity within the larger United States and its own issues as a biracial society.
Dixie’s Great War: World War I and the American South is not a narrative history but rather a transcript from a series of lectures discussing the Great War in the context of the Southern experience. As such, it is organized under the collective discussions surrounding the effects of mobilization in the southern states, the home front in Dixie, southerners in Europe, and southerners’ attempts to put the war in context. The book concentrates largely on the interests of the professors conducting the lectures and on the questions they received from interested members of the audience.
Still, the book provides some insight into the relationship between the segregationists in the South in regard to draft policy and the War Department. It also looks at how federal spending in support of the war brought changes in parts of the South; not all U.S. Army posts built to train and to ship out soldiers were named after Confederate generals. North Carolina might have had Camp Bragg and Louisiana Camp Beauregard, but Alabamans were willing to put up with Camp McClellan and Camp Sheridan so long as millions of federal dollars were spent to construct them.
Needless to say, much of the book discusses the experiences of African-American southerners whose mobilization and treatment was certainly different than that of whites or even other American minorities. Southerners did not like losing their largely black workforce and used draft laws to keep them in place. Those who were drafted were largely (but not entirely) placed in noncombat units because of political pressure from southern politicians. And finally, the idea of a “War for Democracy” was lost on a segment of America whose voting rights were curtailed.
For most of the United States, the Great War was a uniting experience that put aside, once and for all, the specter of the Civil War. For the South, the Great War was still largely shaped by the Civil War and the “Lost Cause.”
Book Review written by: James D. Crabtree, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas