Upon the Altar of the Nation: A Moral History of the Civil War

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Overview

"When the nation tore itself apart during the Civil War, both sides marched under the banner of God. The nation's great internal test required not only a war of troops but also a war of ideas, as the Union and Confederacy each strained to establish a legitimate identity as a moral nation. In this bold and original book, Harry Stout looks at the words and deeds of both sides, asking how their actual conduct can be judged against the enduring rules of society. The result is a sober and eye-opening account of why the Civil War was fought-and why it
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Upon the Altar of the Nation: A Moral History of the Civil War

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Overview

"When the nation tore itself apart during the Civil War, both sides marched under the banner of God. The nation's great internal test required not only a war of troops but also a war of ideas, as the Union and Confederacy each strained to establish a legitimate identity as a moral nation. In this bold and original book, Harry Stout looks at the words and deeds of both sides, asking how their actual conduct can be judged against the enduring rules of society. The result is a sober and eye-opening account of why the Civil War was fought-and why it took the bloody course it did." Drawing from wartime letters, church sermons, newspaper articles, diary entries, battlefield photographs, lithographs, and children's books, Stout proves how American minds and souls were ensnared in patriotic propaganda and ideology. This book obliterates some of our most fondly treasured myths about this terrible conflict-and has strong resonance in our justification of war in the twenty-first century.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.
Library Journal
The publisher has great expectations for Yale religious historian Stout's account of the Civil War as righteous cause. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Was the Civil War just? Both sides thought so, writes religious historian Stout (American Religious History/Yale Univ.), but only one was correct by any modern calculus. There are dangers in viewing long-past actions through modern eyes; what would have seemed perfectly natural to Caesar is today's enormity. Stout reckons that "just-war theory" has been operational, though, for many centuries, and some of the concerns of those who fought in the Civil War remain of concern today. More remote are the notions of manhood that motivated behavior on both sides of the line, though any West Pointer will understand the agonies Southern cadets went through in determining what sort of duty and honor were owed to what country. (Stout notes that 21 Southern cadets remained to serve in the Union army, whereas all Southern students at Princeton went home.) Both sides searched for signs that theirs was the just one; both declared that God was with them. Had it been merely a bloodletting over states' rights, Stout suggests, then neither side would have had much moral claim; but the fact that slavery was central to the argument and that the Union war widened-if only eventually-into an abolitionist one changed the equation. Along the way, visiting one moral dilemma after another, Stout remarks on Grant's ending of prisoner exchanges, for instance, which came about because returned rebels violated parole to return to the ranks, and Grant reckoned that he could afford more men in prison than the Confederates could, a moral tap dance if ever there was one; and he notes that at a time of pandemic anguish during Lincoln's second inauguration, the Christian right lamented not so much bloodshed or a broken nationas the fact that Andrew Johnson turned up drunk. Of interest to students of ethics and religious history; Civil War specialists will not find much new, but Stout offers an interesting way of looking at well-known events.
From the Publisher
A triumph of scholarship, of interpretation, and (in the deepest sense) of historical understanding. (John Demos, National Book Award–winning author of The Unredeemed Captive)

Thought provoking . . . asks many of the right questions. (James M. McPherson, The New York Review of Books)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781437978674
  • Publisher: DIANE Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 8/28/2011
  • Pages: 552

Meet the Author

Harry S. Stout is the Jonathan Edwards Professor of American Religious History at Yale University and the author of The New England Soul. He has received an NEH Research Fellowship and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, among other awards. Currently the editor of the twenty-seven volume series of The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Professor Stout has coedited the seventeen-volume series Religion and American Life designed for public schools.

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Table of Contents

Pt. I Preparation : patriots all : November 1860 to July 1861
Pt. II Romanticization : the making of heroes : July 1861 to March 1862
Pt. III Descent : hard war, spilled blood : April 1862 to October 1862
Pt. IV Justification : the emancipation war : October 1862 to May 1863
Pt. V Transformation : hearts invested : May 1863 to April 1864
Pt. VI Proportion : the soldiers' total war : May 1864 to August 1864
Pt. VII Discrimination : a civilian war : August 1864 to February 1865
Pt. VIII Reconciliation : making an end to build a future
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Customer Reviews

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