An essential contribution to our understanding of slavery and the Civil War.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
“A breathtakingly thorough examination of attitudes toward slavery of the rank-and-file troops, blue and gray, black and white.”
—The Baltimore Sun
“An engrossing study of Civil War soldiers . . . by breathing life into them, she breathes life into debates over why the war came and how it was waged.” —Chicago Tribune
“A splendid book that should be read carefully by all who have an interest in the Civil War.” —Civil War News
For this impressively researched Civil War social history, Georgetown assistant history professor Manning visited more than two dozen states to comb though archives and libraries for primary source material, mostly diaries and letters of men who fought on both sides in the Civil War, along with more than 100 regimental newspapers. The result is an engagingly written, convincingly argued social history with a point—that those who did the fighting in the Union and Confederate armies "plainly identified slavery as the root of the Civil War." Manning backs up her contention with hundreds of first-person testimonies written at the time, rather than often-unreliable after-the-fact memoirs. While most Civil War narratives lean heavily on officers, Easterners and men who fought in Virginia, Manning casts a much broader net. She includes immigrants, African-Americans and western fighters, in order, she says, "to approximate cross sections of the actual Union and Confederate ranks." Based on the author's dissertation, the book is free of academese and appeals to a general audience, though Manning's harsh condemnation of white Southerners' feelings about slavery and her unstinting praise of Union soldiers' "commitment to emancipation" take a step beyond scholarly objectivity. Photos. (Apr.)Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Showing a familiarity with and enthusiasm for her subject that gives her book a pleasingly personal tone, Manning (history, Georgetown Univ.) examines how both Union and Confederate soldiers viewed slavery and how they perceived its impact on the war. Her extensive research in primary sources (letters, newspapers, etc.) is evident in the text, where the perspectives of the soldiers are projected largely in their own words. Emancipation, equality, and the future of race relations in this country are discussed with the openness of frontline participants who have an investment in the outcome. Southerners reflect on why slavery matters even to non-slaveholders, African American Union soldiers fight for equal rights on the battlefield and within the ranks, Northerners who have never encountered African Americans are humbled when they see the ravages of slavery in the South. While the nobler thoughts of the soldiers are compelling, the most powerful selections are the disconcerting racist opinions from both armies, which come across the years with a shock. Instead of the generalized opinions of a population, these are personal statements with force and feeling. Unfortunately, though Manning is careful to reveal the positive as well as negative attitudes of the soldiers, the chronological narrative bogs down in the repetitiveness of too many voices. While this may supplement large Civil War collections, it is not a necessary purchase. [See Prepub Alert, LJ12/06.]
An examination of Civil War soldiers' attitudes on race and slavery. Manning (History, Georgetown Univ.) bases her study, originally her Ph.D. thesis at Harvard, on soldiers' letters home, regimental newspapers and similar documentary evidence, much of it unpublished-and liberally quoted by the author. These materials confirm that even those who were neither slaveholders nor former slaves identified slavery as the main cause of the war. This is especially important in considering southern soldiers' justifications for fighting a conflict in which few had any personal economic stake. For the Confederate soldier in the ranks, Manning argues, slavery was the validation of white manhood, even for non-slaveholders. As a result, soldiers on both sides firmly believed that the Union cause was ultimately the end of slavery-well before Lincoln committed the U.S. to that policy. Union soldiers moving into slaveholding areas got their first look at the reality of slavery early in the war, and many were radicalized by it. The northerners were appalled that many slaves were obviously the progeny of their owners-who nonetheless treated them as little better than barnyard animals. The degrading treatment of slave women and disrespect for the family was a disgrace in their eyes. As for the southerners, not even the failure of the Confederate government to provide for soldiers' families at home outweighed importance of preserving slavery. Northern victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg became divine vindications of the Union's goals, especially among black soldiers, whose willingness to fight hard gave white Union soldiers-most of whom still harbored racial prejudice-the experience of working for a commongoal with blacks. A final blow to Confederate troops' morale was a proposal in late 1864, endorsed by Lee himself, to permit slaves to serve in the army as a last-ditch effort to counter the Union pressure. Convincing and eloquent.