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Editors’ Bookshelf

March 2024
1min read

Before Montana had a functioning legal system, it had a functioning extralegal system—a private army of vigilantes who in the early 1860s hanged 21 troublemakers, even including a sheriff who apparently found time on the side to oversee a string of stagecoach and saloon robberies. The vigilantes were so widely respected that when someone was strung up extrajudicially in the far tamer 1880s, a newspaper editor could nostalgically reflect, “We do not object so much to a decent, orderly lynching.” Even today Montana Highway Patrol officers wear shoulder patches bearing the cryptic message “3-7-77,” which the vigilantes posted to scare wrongdoers into exile. Frederick Allen, the author of histories of Coca-Cola and modern Atlanta (and no relation to the managing editor of this magazine), tells the story in A Decent, Orderly Lynching (University of Oklahoma Press, $34.95), a vivid look at an especially wild moment in the Wild West.

Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s devastating Civil War march across Georgia lives to this day in fame of infamy, depending on where you live—but the campaign didn’t end when he reached Savannah in December 1864. After a brief rest, Sherman turned his men north, heading for Virginia, and continued his heavy-handed tactics, stopping only after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. In When Sherman Marched North From the Sea (University of North Carolina Press, 192 pages, $27.50), Jacqueline Glass Campbell narrates this final chapter of the war’s most controversial episode, describing Sherman’s unsuccessful struggles to keep his men from looting, his different attitudes towards the firebrands of South Carolina and the reluctant secessionists of North Carolina, and the reactions of the conquered Southerners, mostly women and slaves, which ranged from overt hostility to sullen acquiescence to viewing the invasion as a business opportunity.

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