Sympathy for the Devil
How the Civil War Created a Nation.
By David Goldfield.
Bloomsbury. 632 pp. $35
Since the 1960s, historians have heartily condemned the antebellum white Southerner as racist, reactionary, un-American, even genocidal. So it is surprising to find a new account of the Civil War era—by an academic, no less—that dares give this stock villain a new hearing. In America Aflame, David Goldfield, a historian at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, tries in a sincere way to get inside the mind of the slave owner, to understand what he was thinking and why he felt so threatened by the North that he was ready to go to war....