On occasion, there are historical topics so obvious in their significance that they remain overlooked for far too long. Such is the case of the role of plants during the American Civil War, and, fortunately, we have a remedy in Judith Sumner’s Plants in the Civil War: A Botanical History. Sumner, an experienced botanist specializing in ethnobotany–the study of human social interaction with plants–has followed on her past success with Plants Go to War: A Botanical History of World War II to present a “plant-centered history of the Civil War.” As she notes, such a study is pertinent given the war’s origin in a slave society centered around a few key plants: cotton, tobacco, sugarcane, and rice. Accordingly, Sumner begins her study with an analysis of the “botanical roots of slavery,” progressing through the role plants played in southern plantation agriculture and then on to how they touched almost every aspect of southern life. Though there is some coverage of northern practices, the book could more accurately be called “Plants in the Confederacy,” given its focus on the southern states, but this quibble does little to diminish its worth to students of nineteenth-century America, slavery, agriculture, the environment, social history, and material culture.
Istre, Logan S.
"Plants in the Civil War: A Botanical History,"
Civil War Book Review: Vol. 26
Available at: https://repository.lsu.edu/cwbr/vol26/iss1/9