Sheridan’s Secret Mission

How the South Won the War After the Civil War

by Robert Cwiklik

On Sale: 01/16/2024

Sheridan’s Secret Mission

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Sheridan’s Secret Mission

How the South Won the War After the Civil War

by Robert Cwiklik

On Sale: 01/16/2024


About the Book

A deeply researched, narrative history recounting the little-known late–Reconstruction era mission of General Philip Sheridan, a Union Army hero dispatched to the South ten years after the Civil War to protect the rights of newly freed black citizens, who were under siege by violent paramilitary groups like the White League intent on erasing their postwar gains.

In late 1874, nearly ten years after the Civil War, former slaves, or freedmen, found themselves under siege in the South by violent paramilitary groups like the White League, intent on erasing their newly won voting rights and other postwar gains and consigning them to a condition little better than slavery. President Ulysses S. Grant, vowing to enforce, “with rigor,” laws protecting the rights of former slaves, asked General Philip H. Sheridan to visit New Orleans and other Southern trouble spots to investigate the freedmen’s plight, all while pretending to be on vacation. Sheridan’s Secret Mission recounts the feisty Union war hero’s Southern sojourn amid tragic episodes of racial terror that ultimately fueled the overthrow of Reconstruction-era protections for black rights.

Sheridan made a splash on his arrival in New Orleans on New Year’s Eve, accompanied by family and friends and proclaiming they were sightseers bound for Cuba. But a few days later, through trickery and force, Democrats seized control of the nearby state House of Representatives, apparently assisted by White League operatives, although the state’s majority black electorate had arguably put Republicans, the party of Lincoln and the freeing of the slaves, in control of the legislature.

Federal soldiers stationed nearby ushered several Democrats out of the House chamber, and Sheridan publicly denounced the “spirit of defiance to all lawful authority” in Louisiana. He threatened to round up White League leaders to face trial before military tribunals. In years past, Northerners might have rallied to support the Union hero. But the public was weary of war issues. Many Northern newspapers condemned Sheridan’s actions and deplored the appearance of federal bayonets in a sovereign state legislature. Some called for Grant’s impeachment.

The controversial clash in the Louisiana legislature lies at the heart of this revelatory new narrative history. Sheridan’s Secret Mission illuminates the bitter career of racial oppression in the United States and resonates powerfully with our contemporary “post-racial” condition.

Critical Praise

"In Sheridan’s Secret Mission Robert Cwiklik describes in often chilling detail how the South may have lost the Civil War, but it won the next one, a guerrilla war to derail Reconstruction and hold blacks back another hundred years. It’s as enlightening as it is appalling." — John Strausbaugh, author of City of Sedition: The History of New York City During the Civil War

"Cwiklik's fast-paced narrative takes us on a harrowing journey into the aftermath of the Civil War, a largely forgotten period when the White League and other Klan-like organizations dominated the South. It was a time when threats and intimidation gave way to violence and murder as the nation, weary of Reconstruction, averted its eyes from the disenfranchisement and outright persecution of former slaves. It's a story of horrifying atrocities, arrogant villains, and compelling and tragic heroes. A stunning read." — Ben Cleary, author of Searching for Stonewall Jackson

"Anyone who thinks polarization is a recent phenomenon in American history ought to read this searing, necessary book. We have been taught that Reconstruction was a failure. In fact, it succeeded so well in bringing formerly enslaved Black people toward equality that it led to a racist backlash that has never ended. In calm, dispassionate prose, Cwiklik zeroes in on one episode of violence and the efforts of the federal government to right horrific wrongs. . . . the story told in Sheridan’s Secret Mission, and the ultimate failure of that mission, points toward the political turmoil we face today." — Russell Shorto, author of The Island at the Center of the World and Revolution Song

"With propulsive storytelling and quiet conviction, Cwiklik throws open a door on an essential but little-known moment in American history. Better angels in New Orleans tried to protect the rights of freed blacks after the Civil War, only to see the movement crushed by a savage surge of white supremacy. This is history at its best: passionate, surprising, blazingly relevant, and contagiously readable." — Neil King, author of American Ramble

"Meticulous and propulsive. . . . Readers will be engrossed." — Publishers Weekly (starred review)


Product Details

  • ISBN: 9780062950642
  • ISBN 10: 0062950649
  • Imprint: Harper
  • On Sale: 01/16/2024
  • Pages: 240
  • List Price:37.00 CAD
  • BISAC1 : HISTORY / United States / Civil War Period (1850-1877)
  • BISAC2 : HISTORY / United States / State & Local / South (AL, AR, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, NC, SC, TN, VA, WV)
  • BISAC3 : POLITICAL SCIENCE / American Government / National

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