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Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction

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Overview

The Civil War is the greatest trauma ever experienced by the American nation, a four-year paroxysm of violence that left in its wake more than 600,000 dead, more than 2 million refugees, and the destruction (in modern dollars) of more than $700 billion in property. The war also sparked some of the most heroic moments in American history and enshrined a galaxy of American heroes. Above all, it permanently ended the practice of slavery and proved, in an age of resurgent monarchies, that a liberal democracy could ...

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Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction

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Overview

The Civil War is the greatest trauma ever experienced by the American nation, a four-year paroxysm of violence that left in its wake more than 600,000 dead, more than 2 million refugees, and the destruction (in modern dollars) of more than $700 billion in property. The war also sparked some of the most heroic moments in American history and enshrined a galaxy of American heroes. Above all, it permanently ended the practice of slavery and proved, in an age of resurgent monarchies, that a liberal democracy could survive the most frightful of challenges.

In Fateful Lightning, two-time Lincoln Prize-winning historian Allen C. Guelzo offers a marvelous portrait of the Civil War and its era, covering not only the major figures and epic battles, but also politics, religion, gender, race, diplomacy, and technology. And unlike other surveys of the Civil War era, it extends the reader's vista to include the postwar Reconstruction period and discusses the modern-day legacy of the Civil War in American literature and popular culture. Guelzo also puts the conflict in a global perspective, underscoring Americans' acute sense of the vulnerability of their republic in a world of monarchies. He examines the strategy, the tactics, and especially the logistics of the Civil War and brings the most recent historical thinking to bear on emancipation, the presidency and the war powers, the blockade and international law, and the role of intellectuals, North and South.

Written by a leading authority on our nation's most searing crisis, Fateful Lightning offers a vivid and original account of an event whose echoes continue with Americans to this day.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
One of the most complex and defining periods of American history is exhaustively chronicled in this readable volume. Guelzo (Lincoln: A Very Short Introduction), a Gettysburg College Civil War historian and professor, begins by discussing the earliest sectional tussles that shaped the U.S. as its founders tried to pull together a new national government, and concludes by exploring how America's bloodiest and most divisive struggle shaped the postwar perspectives of Southerners, Northerners, and newly-freed slaves. In between, Guelzo conducts an accessible investigation of the incredibly nuanced conflict, commenting on the actual battles, relevant contemporary issues, and its global context. The author maintains that if it had not been for westward expansion and the eradication of slavery in the North, the two sections of the country and their distinct economic systems—one based on slave labor and the other on large-scale factory workforces—might have continued to uneasily co-exist. The obligatory portraits of involved parties are familiar—Guelzo portrays a hapless James Buchanan, a melancholic Abraham Lincoln, and the impressive commanders Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee—and the author deftly balances politics with engaging detail. Civil War aficionados and those looking for a sterling introduction will find plenty to enjoy in Guelzo's newest. Illus. (May)
From the Publisher
"Guelzo has a masterful command of the intricate narrative of the Civil War period. His tale contains familiar stories, but also new insights." —Journal of American History

"Guelzo's book is a shining example of the virtues of the macro approach when it is undertaken with energy and efficiency. By panning out and reviewing the events that occurred over several decades, Guelzo offers a useful synthesis of the developing Civil War narrative..." —The New York Times

"It's hard to imagine a better one-volume history of the American Civil War than Gettysburg College professor Allen C. Guelzo's new work." —The Washington Times

"Guelzo's prose is graceful and erudite - indeed, almost poetic. His is as comfortable with military topics as he is with the political, social, and economic aspects of the war and its aftermath." —The Weekly Standard

"Allen C. Guelzo's new book should occupy the same position in the current Civil War sesquicentennial as Bruce Catton's books did 50 years ago during the war's centennial. Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War & Reconstruction deserves this prominence for Guelzo's thorough knowledge of the subject, his ability to draw fresh conclusion, and his exceptional writing skills." —The Saturday Evening Post

"This is an outstanding effort to recount and explain our greatest national trauma to general readers." —Booklist

"With his accustomed eloquence and erudition, Allen C. Guelzo has produced a grand and sweeping account of the Civil War, vividly depicting its events, its characters, and, most of all, the ideas that drove them. Fateful Lightning is destined to take its place alongside the classic narratives of the nation's greatest crisis." —Steven E. Woodworth, author of This Great Struggle: America's Civil War

"[A] splendidly-written narrative" —Civil War Book Review

"Fateful Lightning is a splendid accomplishment." —David Frum, Daily Beast

"Fateful Lightning is a wonderful book. It is the summit of a long career of a consumate historian. ... [A] timely addition to a long tradition of scholarly histories of both the Civil War and Reconstruction. ... Guelzo seamlessly weaves the history of actual warfare with other cultural and historical events of the time. ... Because it is so well-written and produces such an engrossing story, it is one that students and scholars alike will relish." —International Social Science Review

Kirkus Reviews
Lincoln Prize winner Guelzo (Civil War Era Studies/Gettysburg Coll.; Lincoln, 2011, etc.) offers a broad, readable history of the Civil War. As late as the 1830s, writes the author, the United States behaved more like a compact of states than a single country. Strong communal bonds kept North and South united. But economic issues divided the sections, and slavery would become the catalyst for disunion. Despite efforts to find workable compromises in the decade before the conflict, there ensued four years of "dislocation, shock, and carnage." Based on recent historical research, Guelzo's account goes beyond the details of generals and battles to explore the war's ramifications on wide-ranging aspects of American society, including religion, gender and technology. While analyzing agendas and strategies and deciphering Lincoln's thinking regarding the Emancipation Proclamation and Reconstruction, the author re-creates dramatic moments on and off the battlefields, from the looting of goods during the Richmond bread riot to a mob's angry assault on a Union arsenal in the Boston draft riot. Guelzo discusses the important role of railroads, the telegraph and other new technologies; the lives of ordinary volunteer soldiers, who often drank to near insensibility before charges; the war's "real killer," disease, caused by poor hygiene and food and ignorance of bacteriology; the reasons for the war offered by intellectuals ("blatherers," Walt Whitman called them) on both sides; and why American religion became one of the conflict's major cultural casualties. The author also considers the war from the vantage of African Americans as well as Native Americans and other minorities, and he concludes with an astute assessment of the confusion and dislocation of the postwar years and the coming of the Gilded Age. An authoritative view of the great American trauma.
The New York Times Book Review
Guelzo's book is a shining example of the virtues of the macro approach when it is undertaken with energy and efficiency. By panning out and reviewing the events that occurred over several decades, Guelzo offers a useful synthesis of the developing Civil War narrative, from the antebellum slavery debate through the four-year bloody struggle, followed by the decade-­long denouement of Reconstruction.
—David S. Reynolds
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199843282
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 5/18/2012
  • Pages: 592
  • Sales rank: 283,241
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Allen C. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era, and Director of Civil War Era Studies at Gettysburg College. He is the author of Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President and Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America, both of which won the Lincoln Prize. His most recent books on Lincoln and the Civil War era are Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates That Defined America and Lincoln: A Very Short Introduction.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1: A Nation Announcing Itself
Chapter 2: The Disillusion of Compromise
Chapter 3: From Debate to Civil War
Chapter 4: To War Upon Slavery: The East and Emancipation, 1861-1862
Chapter 5: Elusive Victories: East and West, 1862-1863
Chapter 6: The Soldier's Tale
Chapter 7: The Manufacture of War
Chapter 8: Year That Trembled: East and West, 1863
Chapter 9: World Turned Upside Down
Chapter 10: Stalemate and Triumph
Chapter 11: A Dim Shore Ahead
Epilogue
Index

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2013

    Great read

    Very interesting book, a lot of detailed information. A must read for a Civil War fan.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2013

    Outstanding

    Very painstakingly detailed of the role of states rights vs countries rights. Also paralleled to plight of the slaves and the laws holding them down. This is the most detailed and interesting path from the Revolution to the Civil War I have every read. His book on Gettysburg is also a must read for any Civil War buff.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2013

    Only A Moderate Recommendation

    Very difficult read, too much detail, not comparable to McPherson.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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