by George C. Browder
University of Tennessee Press, 2024
Paper: 978-1-62190-814-2 | eISBN: 978-1-62190-815-9
Library of Congress Classification F444.G47B74 2024

Germantown during the Civil War Era recounts the rise and fall of a nineteenth-century Tennessee town, a community that was not a typical antebellum town in the cotton belt. It’s a case study in how social, economic, and political changes affected them, Black and White.

Before the Civil War, Germantown had become a thriving cultural, commercial, and political center. Its elite and middle-class White families had full access to the cultural and social life of Memphis, as well as local private academies and collegiate institutions that hosted enriching events. Its appealing inns, taverns, and mineral springs allowed for festive social mixing of all classes. As an emerging industrial and commercial center of a rich cotton-growing district in the 1850s, Germantown’s decline after the war would have been unimaginable before the war. Thus, this monograph paints a picture of a vibrant community whose brilliancy was extinguished and almost entirely forgotten.

Yet, Germantown’s economic and political decline, caused by a number of factors, is not the most interesting part of its story. Meticulously documented and richly illustrated with maps and data, this book reveals the impacts of surviving a theater of guerrilla war, of emancipation, of social and political Reconstruction, and a disastrous Yellow Fever epidemic on all of Germantown’s people—psychologically, socially, and culturally. The damage struck far deeper than economic destruction and loss of life. A peaceful and harmonious society crumbled. Germantown during the Civil War Era is sure to be of interest not just to Shelby County residents, or students of the Civil War, but also to anyone interested in the racial and social history of the Volunteer state.