The Ordeal of the Reunion

A New History of Reconstruction

By Mark Wahlgren Summers

528 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 21 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6407-1
    Published: February 2021
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-1757-2
    Published: October 2014
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-1758-9
    Published: October 2014

Littlefield History of the Civil War Era

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Awards & distinctions

A 2016 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

For a generation, scholarship on the Reconstruction era has rightly focused on the struggles of the recently emancipated for a meaningful freedom and defined its success or failure largely in those terms. In The Ordeal of the Reunion, Mark Wahlgren Summers goes beyond this vitally important question, focusing on Reconstruction's need to form an enduring Union without sacrificing the framework of federalism and republican democracy. Assessing the era nationally, Summers emphasizes the variety of conservative strains that confined the scope of change, highlights the war's impact and its aftermath, and brings the West and foreign policy into an integrated narrative. In sum, this book offers a fresh explanation for Reconstruction's demise and a case for its essential successes as well as its great failures. Indeed, this book demonstrates the extent to which the victors’ aims in 1865 were met--and at what cost.

Summers depicts not just a heroic, tragic moment with equal rights advanced and then betrayed but a time of achievement and consolidation, in which nationhood and emancipation were placed beyond repeal and the groundwork was laid for a stronger, if not better, America to come.

About the Author

Mark Wahlgren Summers is professor of history at the University of Kentucky and author of A Dangerous Stir: Fear, Paranoia, and the Making of Reconstruction.
For more information about Mark Wahlgren Summers, visit the Author Page.


“Effectively captures the turmoil and frustrations of the era. . . . [and] shows how economic woes affected Reconstruction’s prospects.”--Publishers Weekly

“Marvelously written.”--CHOICE

“A superb spinner of tales. . . . An important book, full of details and insights, and it deserves serious attention.”--Journal of Southern History

"Summers has devoted almost half a century to a study of the period, and it shows."--Blue & Gray Magazine

“An overall framework for understanding the key problems of the period. . . . This is an important book, providing food for thought, if only because, tonally as well as substantively, it offers a counterpoint to the dominant narrative.”--Journal of the Civil War Era

“Summers’s rich and careful new history of Reconstruction stands out in a crowded field....[His] mastery of the sources has allowed him to write an impressively thorough history of the period, and to pull together diverse strains with uncommon sophistication.”--H-Net Reviews