Cover Image: Down Along with That Devil's Bones

Down Along with That Devil's Bones

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I really struggled with the rating of this book. On one side, O‘Neill provides a raw and comprehensive look at the Confederate monument debate, as portrayed in his exploration of the symbolism surrounding Nathan Bedford Forrest. If you do not know US history, Forrest plays a very dark part, the first leader of what later became the KKK and a Confederate general known not to show mercy. Not a nice guy. Period.

O‘Neill‘s several year examination and reporting on the monument topic leads to discussions of history and memory and racism and anti-racism, along with self reflection. It makes you uncomfortable, and that‘s the point. As he takes a step back and examines his own persona and feelings, you as the reader are compelled to do the same. Reading parts of this brought to mind the first time I read Tony Horowitz‘s Confederates in the Attic - feelings of shock and discomfort, not to mention twinges of fear. For a book to move the reader this much is such an important book. And yet, I struggled with his at times oversimplification of historical facts and sometimes misinterpretation of them. My background is in history, and I know a tad bit more about aspects of the Civil War Era than most. He didn‘t quite get everything right. For me, it took away from the impact, which is a bit of a downer. I really wanted to love this and the topic is so timely and vital. If I didn‘t know the history, this would be a much higher rating for sure. I do recommend this; it will give you chills.
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Across the United States, you can find statues, streets, and schools named after slaveowners. Those monuments have faced protests and vandalism, but also have their staunch defenders. Journalist Connor Towne O’Neill closely studied four such monuments to Nathan Bedford Forrest, a southern everyman with military savvy who served as a Confederate general in the Civil War and later went on to be the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. We learn about who Forrest was and how he came to be so revered in the South, but what O'Neill makes truly fascinating is why and when these various Forrest memorials were erected. As he states early on, monuments are "a reflection of the times in which they are erected as much as they are a reflection of the times they seek to commemorate." O'Neill gets personal and acknowledges his own place as a white Northerner and how the legacy of slavery is still part of his story, our American story. Like Ibram X. Kendi's Stamped From the Beginning and Tony Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic, this is an accessible read recommended for those who want to broaden their historical understanding of today's racial and civil unrest.
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An essential read for all to understand how white supremacy has continued throughout our nations history. It takes a deep look into how ingrained white supremacy is in southern culture and the symbols we have instilled and installed to quell equality.
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I have struggled to find narratives about race that I really resonate with - so many white people who write on it come very different backgrounds from me and obviously, as a white woman, books coming from the POC perspective, while necessary for me to read, I struggle to feel more than guilt and anger as the person shares their experiences, obviously I cannot relate. O'Neill is a white man from Lancaster, PA (very close to where I completed my undergraduate degree) and approaches his research into monuments as a Northern white man, someone who, like me, was taught that "we're from the North. Racism is a southern issue. We're the good guys." That is complete nonsense of course, but this was the first book I've found that dug into that type of background and what that experience brings to the conversation and when someone from that background starts to reckon with living in the South and today's climate overall. I appreciated the honesty of O'Neill as he learned and moved from one Forrest monument to the next and navigated the two sides in the monuments debate to investigate how white supremacy was created and encouraged and how we deal with that legacy today.
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A timely investigation into confederate monuments that explores the legacy of white supremacy through the statues and imagery that elevate individuals like Nathan Bedford Forrest in spite of their known crimes.   

This is an extensively researched work of nonfiction, and while it is a dense read for all the information it offers, it holds readers’ attention and is made approachable through the author’s personal stories of traveling to different monument sites and interacting with people who are both for and against keeping monuments to Forrest.  

With all the Antiracism books available right now, I appreciate that this one comes at the issue of white supremacy from a different angle. "Down Along with That Devils Bones," forces readers to grapple with the question of how we as a nation choose to remember history and how our understanding of the past impacts our ability to shape a more equitable future. This book is a good pick for readers looking to understand the history and emotion behind calls to remove confederate (and other questionable historic figures) statues. 

Thank you to Algonquin Books and Netgalley for an advance copy of this ebook.
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Fascinating and timely narrative nonfiction on the topics of Confederate monuments, the legacy of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the deep-seated roots of white supremacy in the USA, and more.
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Down Along with That Devil's Bones is a worthy addition to the antiracism titles that are so important at the moment. Well-written and researched, this book is highly readable (even though my review e-copy had typographical issues that removed numerals and often the first word(s) of starting paragraphs). Recommended for anyone interested in learning more about persistent racism in the Southern US.
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Journalist Connor Towne O'Neill has been "chasing the story of Nathan Bedford Forrest" since 2015. It's a chase that led O'Neill not only deep into the history of American racism, Southern pride and the role that Confederate monuments play in both, but to his own "personal reckoning," coming to terms with the role of his whiteness in his understanding of the United States of the past--and the present.

Forrest was a Confederate Army general who fought not for states' rights, as many now romanticize the cause of the American South, but to protect the institution of slavery. An avowed white supremacist, Forrest, perhaps not surprisingly, went on to become the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan; what is surprising, given that historical context, is the sheer number of parks, buildings and statues that stand in his honor to this day. This is what O'Neill aims to unpack in Down Along with that Devil's Bones, using Forrest's physical legacy in the South as a lens to explore the ways in which white supremacy has often twisted and shifted the narrative of United States history. With enough historical detail to refresh even the most lackluster students of history, O'Neill's account is educational and eye-opening, exploring "race, memory and the legacy of the [Civil War]." The result is a work of narrative nonfiction that is part memoir, part history and part plea: only by understanding the history of racism in America, he argues, can we begin to dismantle it in the present. And it is impossible not to walk away from this book without a better understanding of that history. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: In this excellent work of narrative nonfiction, a journalist uses the legacy of a Confederate Army general as a lens by which to explore race, memory and how we understand American history.
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I annotated and highlighted so many things while reading this. I have so much to say, and no idea how to say it - but that's okay, because O'Neill says it so well.

Okay. Stepping back. Down Along with That Devil's Bones does what it says on the tin: by using monuments of Nathan Bedford Forrest - Confederate war monger, slave trader, and leader of the KKK - and people's relationships to them, the book asks us - specifically, asks white people - to reckon with the fact that that history is our history. O'Neill pulls no punches, not in his writing nor his interviewing, asking his subjects how they can defend the statues of Forrest. I won't be the first to tell you that the absolute leaps in logic there are stupendous. And in fact, that's what the statues themselves are about. He interviews Derek Alderman, the University of Tennessee expert on monuments and memorials, who says that though "...Confederate monuments are ostensibly about remembering the past, '[they] can also be about facilitating forgetting ... the public is encouraged to see the past in one way. So inherently it is being encouraged not to remember another part of the past.'" But while that cogent take definitely has a lot of truth in it, it neglects the "Heritage Not Hate" ignorance - the more willful kind of ignorance - that people like Lee Millar, the spokesman for the Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, profess, the kind that says, when confronted with a quote from Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, who said explicitly that slavery was the cornerstone of the Confederacy, would respond, "Yeah, I feel that opinion is wrong[.] He's just one man."

Yeah. Okay.

This book is a direct refutation of that kind of intentional forgetting. Through thorough research and miles on the road, traveling from memorial to memorial, O'Neill unpacks the part of history that begs to be seen - the violence, the racism, the fear - and outlines what we must do not to let that part slip away.

The first thing? Bring the monuments down.
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The book is focused on Nathan Bedford Forrest – the monuments displaying his image, and his biography: founding grand wizard of the Klan, a confederate soldier, who quickly ran through the ranks from private to lieutenant general, a profiteer from slave trading. Modern times explains the history of the monuments after him, how they came to be, and torn down, some raised again. To many in the area Forrest is a hero, a white supremacist. The park named after him, streets, so many places are named after him. Also, why his name should not be remembered so well, and what it means to the people who are of color.

The book shows by this how racism is steeped into everyday life, particularly in the south, by this example of someone still strongly revered, yet justly being removed from memorials. A well written investigative book.
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Everyone has heard that history is written by the victors. While the truth of the statement is debatable, the fact that history has been and actively is being rewritten is not. One of the most prevalent and divisive rewritings is the myth of the Lost Cause, where the racist aims of the Confederacy during the Civil War are replaced with the ideas of myth and heritage. In Down Along With That Devil’s Bones, O’Neill looks into the hagiography around Nathaniel Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general, by providing the stories of monuments and memorials to Forrest. More than simple recitation of facts about the creation of the monuments, O’Neill covers the protests surrounding the monuments and their proper place in society while documenting the growth of his understanding about how Forrest and the racist history of our country has created the world he lives in as a white man. 

This is a strong, antiracist memoir and history lesson. O’Neill does not shy away from the truth about Forrest and the racist framework of our country, and does so without ridiculing those who believe whole-heartedly in the myth of the Confederacy and the Lost Cause. As pointed out in the interviews he conducts with activists and his own reflections on his journey, getting rid of the symbols is the easy part, however hard we make that step. Creating systemic change, where not only the symbols are removed, but the structures that support the use and creation of those symbols are dismantled, is going to take more work. Occasionally the book goes too far into the details of the monuments, but overall it is a solid work, and belongs on reading lists of antiracist material as well as reading lists about cultural divides in the United States. 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for an honest review.
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This reads more like a travelogue than an analysis of the legacy of Nathan Bedford Forrest and the legacy of Confederate paraphernalia and monuments. The author’s travels and experiences traveling in the south and interviewing different sides of the view of Forrest’s legacy brings together a lot of what we have heard only secondhand in the recent surge of monument removals. In the process, he also pulls from the history books and combines current anthropology with historical facts and events. 
Many of the topics were familiar, as I grew up and currently work in the south. I studied American History in a southern university, the alma mater of southern ancestors. I saw history through rose-tinted glasses until I decided to actually question what was being taught. 
There will always be those who are against change, even for the better. The South, with a big ‘s,’ will never be forgotten because it’s a comforting history for many, despite morally wrong in other ways. As the history books tell us, the true details of the past and the legacy honored through time can be radically different stories.
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Although this book is well written and makes some interesting points. It gets lost in its own rhetoric and loses its way.
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A very interesting and informative look at how Civil War monuments are viewed both culturally and politically throughout the South. It's an extremely timely topic that seems like it will continue to be under discussion for years to come. O'Neill's book did a great job at describing the tension on both sides of the monument debate.
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I wish that this book could have been ready for publication just a few months earlier than it was, because it would have gotten more attention then, during what appears to have been 2020’s high peak for the removal of Confederate statues monuments across the American south. That being said, it is still an important work that I hope a lot of people will read — and of course, many of these statues and monuments are still standing. Worse yet, the “thought monument” of post-Civil War white supremacy is still standing.

Connor Towne O’Neill tells the history of these monuments, and grapples with America’s history and present as a white supremacist country. As a white man, originally from Pennsylvania, he is open about his increasing awareness of his own privileged position as he dives deeper into the issues at hand, primary by focusing on many white Southerners’ continued veneration of Nathan Bedford Forrest. More and more, he shows how the arguments for and against taking these monuments down are really not equivalent. Not even close.

One thing that I wish the author had discussed more explicitly is the fact of America’s allowing monuments to Confederate “heroes” to be built in the first place. All throughout history, the winners of wars have destroyed the monuments of the losers. But America not only allowed former Confederates — essentially people who committed treason (in order to maintain slavery, it bears repeating!) — to gain position in US government and thereby enact harmful legislature against Black people and other marginalized groups, we allowed them to build state-sanctioned monuments as what the author would call “palliatives” to the underlying disease of white supremacy. I wish the author had gone further with contextualizing that, as it would have helped bolster the argument that America itself, and not just the old South (or today’s South), is a white supremacist country. Also, by focusing so narrowly on the cult of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the book can give Northern white readers a sort of easy out that they (we!) do not deserve.
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The controversy over confederate statues and monuments needs to be addressed. Connor O’Neill was in all the right places at the right times to reveal the depths and depravity of the movements to preserve and promote them. He has written a book, Down Along With That Devil’s Bones, to document his recent travels, research and interviews. It is as ugly as you would expect, and less than it could be.

He picks Nathan Bedford Forrest, a name little known outside the southern United States, as his poster child. There are statues, monuments, halls and schools named after him all over the southern states. This estimable gentleman of the south, worthy of everyone’s respect and idolatry, was a slave auctioneer and Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, restoring white supremacy to several southern states after the south lost the civil war. That anyone would want to remove his monuments is something for all good citizens to rise up and fight against.

O’Neill visited Charlottesville for the battle over monuments, where one supporter drove his car though a crowd of protestors, killing a woman. He visited Selma, always the epicenter of controversy, Nashville, Memphis, Montgomery and more. Their links to slavery and the civil war are all noted. He asked people for their thoughts, dug into history and followed the removal of statues, often in the dead of night. It’s all very descriptive, with lots of mood setting and color. And minimal impact.

What he found should come as no surprise. Southerners are apologists for their flawed heroes. They willfully ignore the slave ownership, the beatings , the lynchings and the exhortations to slavery as highly ethical Christian living. Instead, they cite heroics in battle, or success in business – without mentioning the business was slave auctioning or that the battles were actually lost.

For whites, the old south way of life has become The Lost Cause, worthy of pity rather than criticism. O’Neill calls it all magical thinking, which also absolves white supremacists of the nastiness of their lives. They love to cite the heritage they want to honor, without the hate it specifies. Magical thinking honors the fighting but not the reason for the fighting, O’Neill says. White supremacy rests entirely on magical thinking. 

Down south, the statues, monuments and flags are a ”palliative” to the white victims of the loss of the civil war. Their civil war statues always face north, i.e. never retreating. Entire universities gather in football stadiums to wave their rebel flags and hoot and holler like the victors they were not. It is (and is meant to be) a very intimidating sight, especially for black students. Weekly, throughout the fall months, every year. Blessed by the administration as good clean fun. Inspiring future generations of white supremacists.

Nathan Forrest was a self-made man. He came from the dirt poor, learned to buy and sell, and found slaves the best commodity to move. His Negro Mart, situated right between his home and the Calvary Church (still standing) on Adams St. in Memphis, saw over a thousand slaves sold every year, providing Forrest with profits of $50,000 (one million in today’s dollars) every year. He stored them there, beat them bloody and sold them off, either in auctions or to passing shoppers. He bought farms and plantations to be worked by the slaves he was unable to sell at his standard 20% markup, so the overall profits remained stellar. He was rich enough to fund his own regiment when the civil war broke out, and led it to several victories, as well as numerous defeats, for all of which he earned great praise – and the rank of lieutenant general in the confederate army. He was famous for slaughtering northern soldiers after the battle was already won, and making the rivers run red with their blood.

When the war ended, the prospect of racial equality led him to join the emerging KKK, which soon made him its leader. This allowed Forrest to command all kinds of troops again, this time committing all kinds of murder, arson, threats and intimidation in order to prevent blacks from assuming any kind of role in society. Instead, the KKK placed whites back in control like they had always been, infiltrating the police, the courts and civic institutions to ensure enforcement. When he had “redeemed” six states for white supremacy, he finally took his retirement, and catching dysentery, died at the age of 55, a hero for his exemplary life.

O’Neill says the rebel flag was uncommon until the 1940s, when overt racists like Strom Thurmond stirred white supremacist feelings. With constant setbacks at the hands of FDR, Truman and Johnson, the confederate flag took on new symbolism and became ubiquitous. But to be honest, it was never really absent. It was baked into state flags, for example. Thurmond’s Dixiecrat rebellion made no bones about white supremacy. For them, desegregation was the crisis. They were there because blacks were there. It was a clue the civil war had not been carried to its full conclusion.

O’Neill is white, and feels guilt and shame. He ends his book at a slave memorial, suitably revolting in his description. But the book left me totally unsatisfied. There are two giant factors obviously missing from it. I find it astonishing he could write this book without them, since he tries to be so thorough and fair in his descriptions and in his questioning of his subjects:

1.Ancient history shows us that the way to assimilate a conquered people is to destroy their statues. With their gods and heroes gone, they must gravitate to accepting the conquerors’ values, heroes and gods. Hundreds, if not thousands of gods have disappeared this way. (HL Mencken once tried to list them all. It was impressive.) By allowing the losing South to build new statues and monuments to their own, and through allowing them to promote the confederate flag, the United States utterly failed to acknowledge the history of the world, and is suffering that failure even today. There is no excuse for permitting white southerners to build legends around failed rebels. 

Nowhere else will you see monuments to the losers. Nowhere else do they glorify criminal ideology. The whole idea is to vanquish the failed ideology, not let it fester and thrive again. That’s what the war was about. The USA never bothered to finish the civil war. Just like in Afghanistan and Iraq, it lost interest in finishing the job and reintegrating the country as something cohesive.

2. History also shows that the conquerors won the wars when they seized the flag of the vanquished. They then banned it, never to fly again. In any war, the flag will change when it is reissued. The old flag is a symbol of the defeated regime and has no right to appear ever again. To fly the rebel flag and build memorials to defeated secessionists is what is called treason in the United States, as it is in the rest of the world. Governments cannot and must not tolerate it, if only to keep the country as one. The business of it being history and that all history must be preserved is bogus, a canard for racism. Treason outranks history. Flying the confederate flag should be punishable by long prison terms. 

I wanted O’Neill to challenge all the people he met and interviewed with the fact they were committing treason against the USA. Palliatives for whites is a trivial apology and a pathetic answer. Rewriting history to avoid the mention of slavery is intellectually dishonest. But honoring and glorifying a defeated enemy of the state is treason. Their disloyalty to the USA is not merely disgusting; it is a national security threat.

What would they have all said to that?

We’ll never know.

David Wineberg
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A thought-provoking with personal analysis going in-depth on our dark history of racism and the representation of monuments. The journalist Connor Towne O'Neill examines the background and the fruition of white supremacy in America. But most importantly, the author covers the on-going battle over monuments dedicated to the infamous confederate generals Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Connor Towne O'Neill's delves into American history to highlight that knowledge in itself is essential for our ability to look into our past and present at the same time. However, knowledge in itself cannot redeem the damage that's been done nor create change. But the importance of acknowledgment is necessary to begin reforming. Many of the author's analysis and points were eye-opening. Through his fascinating approach in providing both perspectives, I was absolutely intrigued with how history is remembered differently individually. The term "cafeteria Catholicism" - "the picking and choosing parts of the faith that align with your worldview and discarding the rest" is used to support his analysis. The author writes with grace, delivering astonishing outlook that truly illuminates our devastating part of American history in slavery.

Thank you to Net Galley and Algonquin Books for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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This was a terrific, thoughtful read. The author is a Northerner who spent time in college in the South.  He decided to look at aspects of the current racial unrest by examining the cases of four monument/statues honoring Nathan Bedford Forrest, Confederate general and KKK Wizard.

So O'Neill travels to Selma, Nashville, Memphis and Murfreesboro where different elements of the community have been agitating about old Confederate monuments for years. O'Neill talks to the Confederate Heritage crowd who just don't understand why anyone would be offended by honoring old heroes. And he talks to the black community members and activists who seethe daily from the hypocrisy and pain of looking at memorials to a man who was a slave trader and mostly unrepentant white supremacist.

It is interesting that none of these memorials was put in place in the immediate post Civil War era. One was erected as late as 2000. He weaves in the story of the demographic changes in the South and the legal barriers to removing these statues -- even when the local governing bodies vote to get rid of them.

He ends the book by visiting Bryan Stevenson's National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, a stark and moving statement about racial lynchings in the U.S. This isn't a huge tome, but it is packed with ideas and emotion that will linger for quite a while. Thanks to the publisher and to Net Galley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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Down Along With That Devil’s Bones: A Reckoning with Monuments, Memory, and the Legacy of White Supremacy by Connor O’Neill is a book about the Confederate General and first Grand Wizard of the KKK Nathan Bedford Forrest, the monuments that honor him, and one white man’s journey to reckon with the legacy of the Confederacy and White Supremacy. O’Neill has written an amazing book that weaves the biography of Forrest and his impact on the present day very nicely. The book specifically focuses on the campaigns to remove Forrest monuments in four cities: Selma, AL; Murfreesboro, TN; Nashville, TN; and Memphis, TN. O’Neill does a phenomenal job providing the views of supporters and opponents of the removal of the monuments in all four cities. As can be expected some of the four stories end with these structures coming down while others remain standing to this day. O’Neill does a great job in this book showing that the erection of these monuments were more about responding to racial tensions than they were to actually commemorate Southern/Confederate heritage. A recent Southern Poverty Law Center study bears this out using data. As you read this book you will learn that Confederate monuments were used as “palliatives” for Americans to console themselves of the racial changes that were happening in the country at the time of Civil Rights movement and the end of Jim Crow. Near the end of this book O’Neill leaves us with the important question about what happens after the monuments comes down. Readers will learn that bringing down the monument is the easy part, tearing down the “thought monuments” and other structural forces is the hard task that remains. Readers of history and race relations will enjoy this fascinating work.
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I am usually an avid non-fiction/biographical book reader, but this one left me cold.  I just couldn't seem to get into the lengthy information about a Southern town's issues over a statue of a KKK leader, soldier, and confederate.  I understand the poorly concealed racism and bigotry at work, but the style of writing didn't move me.
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