God's Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War

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Throughout the Civil War, soldiers and civilians on both sides of the conflict saw the hand of God in the terrible events of the day, but the standard narratives of the period pay scant attention to religion. Now, in God's Almost Chosen Peoples, Lincoln Prize-winning historian George C. Rable offers a groundbreaking account of how Americans of all political and religious persuasions used faith to interpret the course of the war.

Examining a wide range of published and ...

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God's Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War

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Throughout the Civil War, soldiers and civilians on both sides of the conflict saw the hand of God in the terrible events of the day, but the standard narratives of the period pay scant attention to religion. Now, in God's Almost Chosen Peoples, Lincoln Prize-winning historian George C. Rable offers a groundbreaking account of how Americans of all political and religious persuasions used faith to interpret the course of the war.

Examining a wide range of published and unpublished documents--including sermons, official statements from various churches, denominational papers and periodicals, and letters, diaries, and newspaper articles--Rable illuminates the broad role of religion during the Civil War, giving attention to often-neglected groups such as Mormons, Catholics, blacks, and people from the Trans-Mississippi region. The book underscores religion's presence in the everyday lives of Americans north and south struggling to understand the meaning of the conflict, from the tragedy of individual death to victory and defeat in battle and even the ultimate outcome of the war. Rable shows that themes of providence, sin, and judgment pervaded both public and private writings about the conflict. Perhaps most important, this volume--the only comprehensive religious history of the war--highlights the resilience of religious faith in the face of political and military storms the likes of which Americans had never before endured.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Rable's sweeping book synthesizes a massive amount of primary source material and provides a narrative that unfolds as intensely as the war it chronicles.--Journal of American History
Publishers Weekly
Apart from Charles Regan Wilson's classic Baptized in the Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865–1920, Civil War historians have often neglected the story of religion in their chronicles of America's sectarian conflict. In this brilliant and groundbreaking book, University of Alabama historian Rable draws upon newspapers, sermons, diaries, letters, and journals to show that many people on both sides of the conflict turned to faith to help explain the war's causes, course, and consequences. Rable demonstrates that both Northerners and Southerners tried to make sense of the brutal war by thumbing through their Bibles, listening to their preachers, and interpreting battles as a fulfillment of a divine plan. Thus, Stephen Alexander Hodgman, a Northerner who had lived in the South for 32 years before the war, declared that God had not just sealed the doom of slavery, but that the war had helped prepare the way for the reign of Christ. Because of its thorough research and its chronicle of the lives of ordinary people, Rable's engrossing study of the role of religion in the Civil War will stand as the definitive religious history of America's most divisive conflict. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Rable (Southern history, Univ. of Alabama; The Confederate Republic) provides an excellent analysis of how Christians on both sides of the Civil War used religion to interpret their experience of the conflict. Analyzing hundreds of sermons, religious tracts, and articles, Rable shows how belief in Divine Providence informed how even the nominally religious viewed the war: if it was going well for your side it was because Providence favored the righteous, if poorly it was because Providence chastises those whom God loves. Christians, North and South, preached highly politicized sermons, with church and state creating a comprehensive if confused civic religion. Rable focuses his attention on the major Protestant and Catholic denominations but briefly considers Jewish and Mormon interpretations of the war as well. VERDICT There have been some excellent books on this topic, e.g., Mark A. Noll's The Civil War as a Theological Crisis, but Rable's book stands out for its accessibility and thorough research. The author shows himself to be an expert both on the controversies of the conflict and on the theological issues treated by the Christian denominations of the period. Highly recommended for readers of Civil War history or American religious history.—Michael Farrell, Reformed Theological Seminary Lib., Oviedo, FL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781469621821
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/2015
  • Series: Littlefield History of the Civil War Era Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 586
  • Sales rank: 536,531
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

George C. Rable holds the Charles G. Summersell Chair in Southern History at the University of Alabama. He is author of Civil Wars: Women and the Crisis of Southern Nationalism, The Confederate Republic: A Revolution against Politics, and Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!, which won the Lincoln Prize.
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 25, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Religion, Civil War & America

    At the time of the Civil War America was a Christian Protestant nation. Public religion is both accepted and expected at all levels. While religious freedom is the law, religious tolerance is not public policy. Catholics suffer from the idea that their allegiance is to the Pope not to America. There are very few Jews but they are subject to the standard discrimination against them. The physical attacks Mormons suffered drove them out of the United States. Westward expansion brought America and the Saints back into contact creating a series of problems for both sides. If you were not a religious person privately, publicly you accepted religion and were respectful of it. This was not a problem for the majority. If you were not a church member, you were a believer. God was a participant in the life of people and of the nation. The public request His guidance and seeks His blessing on all undertakings. While people might fail to be good Christians, the majority is aware of their failings and worry about their soul. These attitudes are common to both sides and carried by both sides into the war.
    This is not "Church History" although the actions of churches are very important to the story. This is not a history of the revivals that swept the armies and the nation, although these revivals are important to the story. This is a comprehensive look at American's religious feelings. This book looks at how these feelings impact people's views on slavery, secession and the war's causalities. Religion sustained the both sides. They see victory as evidence of God's favor and defeat as a reason to pray for victory. Death is God's will and the dead are martyrs to the cause residing with God in Haven. National days of pray are common and the churches support the cause and war to the bitter end. Most of have never been involved in a nation fight for survival, this book looks at the role of religion in this type of war.
    I have read several books on religion during the Civil War. This is without a doubt the most comprehensive. While well written and readable, this is not an easy read. The subject can be dry and controversial. I suspect that many people will find reasons to be upset with the author's presentation and conclusions. The religious may find an undercurrent of skepticism while others will feel the author excuses the churches. I feel the author made a real effort to present a fair balanced inclusive presentation. This is a very informative book and needs to be read by everyone interest in the subject.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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