George Rable: Triple Crown Winner

Historians in the News

Thomas Spencer, writing in the Birmingham News (Dec. 22, 2003):

It's been a good year for University of Alabama history professor George Rable.

His book, "Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!," won the triple crown of Civil War book awards, the Douglas Southall Freeman Book Award and both the Jefferson Davis Award, presented bythe Museum of the Confederacy, and the prestigious Lincoln Prize, awarded by Gettysburg College. Only once before has a book won both the David and Lincoln prizes.

On top of that, Rable won the University of Alabama's top professor's prize.

"Your eminent colleagues at other universities believe you are one of the finest historians of the Civil War era and that your work will be cited a century from now," UA President Robert E. Witt wrote when notifying Rable. "You are a most deserving winner of the Blackmon-Moody Outstanding Professor Award."

In a nomination letter, James M. McPherson, widely considered one of the great Civil War scholars, wrote of Rable, "George is without question one of the finest historians in my field in this generation."

His students describe him as humble and approachable, but even Rable has to admit a touch of pride in winning that last compliment: "That felt pretty good coming from somebody like James McPherson. He was probably being a bit generous."

A native of Lima, in northwest Ohio, Rable, 53, was the first in his family to go to college. His father worked in a steam shovel factory, his mother in a school cafeteria. He thought he'd study math, but he took a couple of history courses and got hooked.

After earning his bachelor's at Bluffton College, a small liberal arts college in Ohio, he came south to Baton Rouge, earning doctoral and master's degrees from Louisiana State University.

He went north again and taught from 1979 to 1998 at Anderson University outside Indianapolis. During that time, he wrote three books: "The Confederate Republic: A Revolution against Politics," "Civil Wars: Women and the Crisis of Southern Nationalism" and "But There Was No Peace: The Role of Violence in the Politics of Reconstruction." He was well into writing "Fredericksburg" when he was recruited to the University of Alabama in 1998.

With the book, Rable wanted to do something that historians typically haven't done. He wanted to describe not only the battle, but also the larger universe in which it was fought.

"They do the battle histories and they do the homefront pieces," Rable said. "They haven't tried to put the things together."

Though it was considered a major engagement when fought, Fredericksburg hasn't received a lot of attention. It turned out to be a perfect battle for what Rable set out to do.

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