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What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War

What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War
Author: Chandra Manning
ISBN 13: 9780307277329
ISBN 10: 307277321
Edition: Reprint
Publisher: Vintage
Publication Date: 2008-03-11
Format: Paperback
Pages: 368
List Price: $16.95

A vivid, unprecedented account of why Union and Confederate soldiers identified slavery as the root of the war, how the conflict changed troops’ ideas about slavery, and what those changing ideas meant for the war and the nation.

Using soldiers’ letters, diaries, and regimental newspapers, Chandra Manning allows us to accompany soldiers—black and white, northern and southern—into camps and hospitals and on marches and battlefields to better understand their thoughts about what they were doing and why. Manning’s work reveals that Union soldiers, though evincing little sympathy for abolitionism before the war, were calling for emancipation by the second half of 1861, ahead of civilians, political leaders, and officers, and a full year before the Emancipation Proclamation. She recognizes Confederate soldiers’ primary focus on their own families, and explores how their beliefs about abolition—that it would endanger their loved ones, erase the privileges of white manhood, and destroy the very fabric of southern society—motivated even non-slaveholding Confederates to fight and compelled them to persevere through military catastrophes like Gettysburg and Atlanta, long after they grew to despise the Confederate government and disdain the southern citizenry. She makes clear that while white Union troops viewed preservation of the Union as essential to the legacy of the Revolution, over the course of the war many also came to think that in order to gain God’s favor, they and other white northerners must confront the racial prejudices that made them complicit in the sin of slavery. We see how the eventual consideration of the enlistment of black soldiers by the Confederacy eliminated any reason for many Confederate soldiers to fight; how, by 1865, black Union soldiers believed the forward racial strides made during the war would continue; and how white Union troops’ commitment to racial change, fluctuating with the progress of the war, created undreamt-of potential for change but failed to fulfill it.

An important and eye-opening addition to our understanding of the Civil War.

Publishers Weekly

For this impressively researched Civil War social history, Georgetown assistant history professor Manning visited more than two dozen states to comb though archives and libraries for primary source material, mostly diaries and letters of men who fought on both sides in the Civil War, along with more than 100 regimental newspapers. The result is an engagingly written, convincingly argued social history with a point that those who did the fighting in the Union and Confederate armies "plainly identified slavery as the root of the Civil War." Manning backs up her contention with hundreds of first-person testimonies written at the time, rather than often-unreliable after-the-fact memoirs. While most Civil War narratives lean heavily on officers, Easterners and men who fought in Virginia, Manning casts a much broader net. She includes immigrants, African-Americans and western fighters, in order, she says, "to approximate cross sections of the actual Union and Confederate ranks." Based on the author's dissertation, the book is free of academese and appeals to a general audience, though Manning's harsh condemnation of white Southerners' feelings about slavery and her unstinting praise of Union soldiers' "commitment to emancipation" take a step beyond scholarly objectivity. Photos. (Apr.)

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