Writing Westward Podcast Episode 018
The Three-Cornered War:
The Union, the Confederacy, and Native Peoples in the Fight for the West
New York: Scribner, 2020
Megan Kate Nelson is a writer and historian of the American Civil War, American West, popular culture, and the 19th century more broadly.
Nelson's new book, The Three-Cornered War: The Union, the Confederacy, and Native Peoples in the Fight for the West (Scribner, 2020), unfolds in the American Southwest, pulling our gaze of the U.S. Civil War away from Eastern battlefields. In New Mexico and Arizona Nelson explores the interconnected actions of the Confederacy, the Union, and sovereign Native peoples. Each group projected conflicting plans and desires for the region.
For the Union and Confederacy, their actions in the SW were about empire and the westward expansion of either free-soil and free-labor for the north or slave economies for the south. For Native peoples, the conflict was in defense of homelands and resources and defiance against growing American empires and ambitions. So while most Civil War battles were in the east, they were fought BECAUSE of the West and competing aspirations projected there. When the Union and Confederate conflict ends in the southwest, Nelson smartly continues to follow the story as Union warfare in the region do not cease, but shifts to Native peoples. This reminds us that in the southwest and elsewhere, the Civil War was more complex than a simple North-South conflict. It was expansionist and imperial in origin, and continental in scope.
Nelson writes in a fluid narrative style and most chapters present the perspective of individual historical figures. This makes the text delightfully readable. It is academic rigorous history, disguised almost as a novel.
Nelson has written extensively in academic and public venues, and her previous books include Trembling Earth: A Cultural History of the Okefenokee Swamp (University of Georgia Press, 2005) and Ruin Nation: Destruction and the American Civil War (University of Georgia Press, 2012). Nelson earned a BA in History and literature from Harvard, a PhD in American Studies from the University of Iowa, and has taught on those topics at Texas Tech, California State - Fullerton, Harvard, and Brown.
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- Host and Producer Brenden W. Rensink is Associate Director of the Redd Center, an Associate Professor of History at BYU, General Editor of the Intermountain Histories project, and author of the 2018 book Native but Foreign: Indigenous Immigrants and Refugees in the North American Borderlands.
- Podcast Music was written and recorded by local Provo composer by Micah Dahl Anderson.
- Episodes are recorded via Skype or in person and amateurishly engineered by Rensink.
- To submit a book to be considered for a podcast episode, email firstname.lastname@example.org.