A profound and timely examination of the moral underpinnings of the War Between the States
The Civil War was not only a war of armies but also a war of ideas, in which Union and Confederacy alike identified itself as a moral nation with God on its side. In this watershed book, Harry S. Stout measures the gap between those claims and the war's actual conduct. Ranging from the home front to the trenches and drawing on a wealth of contemporary documents, Stout explores the lethal mix of propaganda and ideology that came to justify slaughter on and off the battlefield. At a time when our country is once again at war, Upon the Altar of the Nation is a deeply necessary book.
In the Civil War, Union and Confederate soldiers alike marched to battle believing God was on their side. Stout, professor of American religious history at Yale (The New England Soul), artfully and eloquently examines the evolving rhetoric of warfare, both Northern and Confederate, within the rubric of "the just war" theory of conflict. Stout dissects such public documents as editorials, sermons and speeches, and private documents like diaries and letters, to trace the trajectory of both sides' rationales for war. But he also makes clear that most high-minded utterances obscured, rather than clarified, the economic issues that lay at the heart of the conflict. Stout argues that even today the moral justifications for the carnage ring louder than do the sordid dollar-and-cents realities that underlay sectional differences. As Stout shows, the Civil War remains with us today as an exercise of civil religion: altars of the two conflicting faiths stand side-by-side at Gettysburg and other venues, sacralized slices of patriotism painted in shades of gray or blue. Stout's contention that even the North engaged in immoral acts in prosecuting the war will rattle many, but the questions he raises are important in an era when humanitarian justifications for war are increasingly common. 24 b&w illus., 5 maps, not seen by PW. (On sale Jan. 23) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.