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Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction Paperback – May 18, 2012

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Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction + Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War (A Nation Divided: Studies in the Civil War Era) + A Short History of Reconstruction
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1ST edition (May 18, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780199843282
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199843282
  • ASIN: 0199843287
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #109,314 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Guelzo has a masterful command of the intricate narrative of the Civil War period. His tale contains familiar stories, but also new insights." --Journal of American History

"Guelzo's book is a shining example of the virtues of the macro approach when it is undertaken with energy and efficiency. By panning out and reviewing the events that occurred over several decades, Guelzo offers a useful synthesis of the developing Civil War narrative..." --The New York Times

"It's hard to imagine a better one-volume history of the American Civil War than Gettysburg College professor Allen C. Guelzo's new work." --The Washington Times

"Guelzo's prose is graceful and erudite - indeed, almost poetic. His is as comfortable with military topics as he is with the political, social, and economic aspects of the war and its aftermath." --The Weekly Standard

"Allen C. Guelzo's new book should occupy the same position in the current Civil War sesquicentennial as Bruce Catton's books did 50 years ago during the war's centennial. Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War & Reconstruction deserves this prominence for Guelzo's thorough knowledge of the subject, his ability to draw fresh conclusion, and his exceptional writing skills." --The Saturday Evening Post

"This is an outstanding effort to recount and explain our greatest national trauma to general readers." --Booklist

"With his accustomed eloquence and erudition, Allen C. Guelzo has produced a grand and sweeping account of the Civil War, vividly depicting its events, its characters, and, most of all, the ideas that drove them. Fateful Lightning is destined to take its place alongside the classic narratives of the nation's greatest crisis." --Steven E. Woodworth, author of This Great Struggle: America's Civil War

"[A] splendidly-written narrative" --Civil War Book Review

"Fateful Lightning is a splendid accomplishment." --David Frum, Daily Beast

"Fateful Lightning is a wonderful book. It is the summit of a long career of a consumate historian. ... [A] timely addition to a long tradition of scholarly histories of both the Civil War and Reconstruction. ... Guelzo seamlessly weaves the history of actual warfare with other cultural and historical events of the time. ... Because it is so well-written and produces such an engrossing story, it is one that students and scholars alike will relish." --International Social Science Review

About the Author

Allen C. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era, and Director of Civil War Era Studies at Gettysburg College. He is the author of Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President and Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America, both of which won the Lincoln Prize. His most recent books on Lincoln and the Civil War era are Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates That Defined America and Lincoln: A Very Short Introduction.

Customer Reviews

Very much worth not merely reading, but owning.
David Michmerhuizen
As a veteran reader of Civil War literature I would highly recommend "Fateful Lightning" for your 150th anniversary of the Civil War reading!
C. M Mills
This book is well written and informative and attention focused read.
Richard Link

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 65 people found the following review helpful By C. M Mills on July 30, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Dr. Allen C. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War era at Gettysburg College. Dr. Guelzo has written a heaving shelf of well received books dealing with Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War era. His new one volume history of the Civil War "Fateful Lightning" is a small print 536 hefty pages in the Oxford paperback edition. The book is illustrated with period drawings and contains a detailed bibliography which will whet the appetite of Civil War buffs & historians and general readers. The book is a scholarly master effort and is the best one volume history of the war since Dr. James McPherson's peerless "The Battle Cry of Freedom." A caveat: this book is NOT STRICTLY A MILITARY HISTORY OF THE WAR containing detailed accounts of battles! There are many such books as these. What Guelzo has done is look at America during this horrific time of civil war thorugh the eyes of a social historian. Guelzo examines in detail such issues as:
a. The plight of slavery and the divisive battles in Congress in pre-bellum American society to deal with this horrible and divisive "peculiar institution." Many pages are discussed to explaining the ramificationos the Missouri Compromise of 1820; the Compromise of 1850; the Kansas-Nebraska popular sovereignity Act of 1854 and the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision which stated that slaves were not citizens and owners did not have to relinquish their ownership of chattel servants. Leaders discussed in this time were Henry Clay; Daniel Webster and John Calhoun. Weak presidents were unable to deal with slavery; John Tyler; Franklin Pierce and the inept James Buchanan among others.
b. The role of women, native Americans, immigrants and African Americans are explored in depth.
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61 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Ronald L. Paul on July 19, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is highly recommended for those who are generally familiar with the military history of the American Civil War. It explores, in some detail, the consequences of the war's impact on American society, both North and South. It adds another dimension to the understanding of the United State's greatest crisis.

This is not a military history of the Civil War. It is not about its great battles and military leaders, but rather it is a history of the causes of the war, its civilian leadership, its impact on ordinary people, how the soldier in the ranks was equipped, fed, led and died, ending with, a lucid discussion of the post war Reconstruction, its short term achievements and its ultimate failure. What did the war actually achieve, if anything? This book is a different slant on Civil War history, thus, the subtitle: ".........A New History of the Civil War.

Specific battles are discussed only in general terms related as to how their outcomes impacted policy both domestic and international. More emphasis is given to the details of the weapons used; fundamental battle tactics and how military units were raised, organized and equipped.

The dislocation of and the great change in the roles of the female population, particularly in the South, dramatically illustrate in part the war's impact on civilian populations. Wives of southern plantation owners, in the absence of males off to war, were thrust from the relative luxury of aristocratic plantation life to one of total responsibility of plantation management creating untold hardships. Violent riots occurred initiated by urban women in the south as a result of substantial food shortages, and in the North against the inequities of the military draft.

This work lucidly dissects post war Reconstruction.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By L. Parker on August 4, 2012
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I started reading Civil War history about a year ago -- I have some time to devote to this interest after semi-retiring. I had read several books of history and memoirs (including Grant's), but I still didn't have a clear view of the overall context and course of the War. So this book is just what I needed at the time. I learned a lot about the events that led to the war, and there is also information about Reconstruction that led me to order a book recommended by Guelzo: The Era of Reconstruction 1865-1877 by Kenneth M. Stampp. (I haven't read it yet.)

I recommend this book to those whose interest in the Civil War is sufficient to justify reading a work of this length.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By W. F. Rucker on February 16, 2014
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I read a very good book by this author titled "Gettysburg: The Last Invasion" last year and was looking forward to this volume. It was not what I expected but the more I read the more I enjoyed the book.
I was expecting a narrative survey history of the era similar to Battle Cry of Freedom. Instead I learned that what is "new" about this book is the author's approach to the history of the era. This book contains a more diversified discussion of various topics written with a broad brush emphasizing social and cultural issues over the military history of the war. The military history of the war is most often seen as a result of the political and social events and not so much the cause of them. When I say broad brush I mean that the author wrote about what he felt was important without feeling compelled to make sure that he provided all of the details of a particular subject. Several times he mentioned Robert E. Lee riding his horse without ever telling the reader that the horse was named Traveler. Most books I have read included that information either because the author was showing off or they felt that those types of details were necessary for a thorough historical record. For this book that was an insignificant detail.
Instead of those types of details the author has several discussions on different aspects of the role of women in the history of the Civil War era. He goes far and wide to include women of all walks of life and their participation in different events. I cannot recall another history of this era that mentioned the Seneca Falls convention and its importance. I was not aware that because of his support of women's rights the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison lost control of the American Anti-Slavery Society.
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