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

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

4.3 7
by Harry S. Stout
     
 

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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

Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

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)

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143038764
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/27/2007
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
576
Sales rank:
420,027
Product dimensions:
6.04(w) x 8.94(h) x 1.27(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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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Upon the Altar of the Nation: A Moral History of the Civil War 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really liked the book. It is a sweeping review of the intellectual and physical tides that the civil war evolved from and swam in for four years of war. Very balanced. I particulary enjoyed the information on art and songs of the war. His epilogue is well put together. Some really good quotes to use with students as well. War is such a tragedy - even if wars can be good wars and accompish much like this one did.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Stout's analysis of the Civil War is nothing less than remarkable. He engages the reader in both analysis and assessment of the causality, morality, and justness of the Civil War. This book is an abolute must read. Don't let the length fool you, once I picked this book up I could not put it down. As a Grad student in History, this was possibly one of the best books I've read in years, comparable to James McPherson and other great historians. Stout has done a magnificent job!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the book all Civil War buffs have been waiting for. Simply captivating. You need to read it. Stout does a fabulous job of putting forth a new look at an old story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Stout seems to think that an inability to keep casulty lists low was immoral and that leaders should have simply given up the fight because of this. He does little to explain why most leaders accepted high casulties and war on civilian morale in order to achieve their war goals. Numerous errors from the trivial to the most important. Only his examination of the clergy's view of the war his truly worth while.
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