2020 Robert Colby (UNC-Chapel Hill), “The Continuance of an Unholy Traffic: Slave Trading in the Civil War South.

In a field with many fine entries, Colby’s work stood out. The Confederate States of America was born in defense of slavery and died with emancipation, but in between is the largely untold story of African American bodies used to finance the rebellion, perform much of the support work, occasionally take up arms, and hedge the disruptions of war. Colby shows that throughout the four-year bloodbath, the internal slave trade remained the cornerstone of Southern society and the bulwark of the Confederate economy. 

The trade in slaves, this eloquent work of history demonstrates, was the rebellion’s rationale and, its leaders hoped, the pathway to an independent slavery-based nation.  For the families permanently sundered in the in the cause of building a slave republic, however, the psychological costs lasted long after the war ended.

Colby, who earned his Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill under the direction of Harry Watson, is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for American Studies at Christopher Newport University.