The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America

The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America

by Edward L. Ayers


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Winner of the Lincoln Prize

A landmark Civil War history told from a fresh, deeply researched ground-level perspective.

At the crux of America’s history stand two astounding events: the immediate and complete destruction of the most powerful system of slavery in the modern world, followed by a political reconstruction in which new constitutions established the fundamental rights of citizens for formerly enslaved people. Few people living in 1860 would have dared imagine either event, and yet, in retrospect, both seem to have been inevitable.

In a beautifully crafted narrative, Edward L. Ayers restores the drama of the unexpected to the history of the Civil War. From the same vantage point occupied by his unforgettable characters, Ayers captures the strategic savvy of Lee and his local lieutenants, and the clear vision of equal rights animating black troops from Pennsylvania. We see the war itself become a scourge to the Valley, its pitched battles punctuating a cycle of vicious attack and reprisal in which armies burned whole towns for retribution. In the weeks and months after emancipation, from the streets of Staunton, Virginia, we see black and white residents testing the limits of freedom as political leaders negotiate the terms of readmission to the Union. With analysis as powerful as its narrative, here is a landmark history of the Civil War.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393356434
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 10/23/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 640
Sales rank: 221,682
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Edward L. Ayers’s The Thin Light of Freedom completes his prize-winning history of the Civil War and its aftermath in the Great Valley that began with In the Presence of Mine Enemies. Ayers’ superb history has been awarded the Bancroft Prize, the Lincoln Prize, and the Avery O. Craven Award of the Organization of American Historians. A recipient of the National Humanities Medal from President Obama, Ayers is the Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities and president emeritus of the University of Richmond.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xv

List of Maps xix

Preface xxi

Prologue 1

Part 1 The Scourge of War

July 1863 through November 1864

1 The Great Invasion

May through July 1863 25

2 A Gigantic Forlorn Hope

July 1863 57

3 The Great Task Remaining Before Us

July 1863 through May 1864 97

4 The Earth Will Tremble

April through June 1864 139

5 To Burn Something in the Enemy's Country

June through October 1864 188

6 A Campaign of Terrible Moment

September through November 1864 244

Part 2 The Harvest of War

December 1864 through 1902

7 The Colossal Suicide of World History

December 1864 through March 1865 283

8 The Perils of Peace

March through October 1865 323

9 Rebelism

January through December 1866 370

10 We Must Be One People

January 1867 through July 1869 418

11 The Past Is Not Dead

1868 through 1902 461

Epilogue 497

Acknowledgments 499

A Note on the Documentation 503

Notes 507

Index 553

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