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God's Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era) Hardcover – November 29, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Apart from Charles Regan Wilson's classic Baptized in the Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865–1920, Civil War historians have often neglected the story of religion in their chronicles of America's sectarian conflict. In this brilliant and groundbreaking book, University of Alabama historian Rable draws upon newspapers, sermons, diaries, letters, and journals to show that many people on both sides of the conflict turned to faith to help explain the war's causes, course, and consequences. Rable demonstrates that both Northerners and Southerners tried to make sense of the brutal war by thumbing through their Bibles, listening to their preachers, and interpreting battles as a fulfillment of a divine plan. Thus, Stephen Alexander Hodgman, a Northerner who had lived in the South for 32 years before the war, declared that God had not just sealed the doom of slavery, but that the war had helped prepare the way for the reign of Christ. Because of its thorough research and its chronicle of the lives of ordinary people, Rable's engrossing study of the role of religion in the Civil War will stand as the definitive religious history of America's most divisive conflict. (Nov.)
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Impressively researched and well written, this book will appeal especially to specialists in the areas of the nineteenth-century United States, American church history, and the Civil War. . . . Scholars for many years to come will turn to Rable for a definitive synthesis of a subject too long neglected.--Indiana Magazine of History

Deeply researched and written with subtlety and skill. . . . Rable's book will become a classic." --Christian Century

A thorough history of religion in that seminal conflict that scholars of both American religion and the Civil War should read.--Alabama Review

Until George C. Rable's God's Almost Chosen Peoples . . . an exploration of the role of religion has been strangely absent from the standard histories of the sectional conflict.--Foreword Magazine

The reader of this book is left with many insights, many things to reconsider through the lens of religion.--Georgia Historical Quarterly

George C. Rable is one of the greatest American historians working, and this new book cements that reputation.--Journal of Southern History

All scholars interested in the Civil War or American religious history will want to acquire this major work.--Journal of NC Association of Historians

Rable's work attests that historians cannot understand the Civil War without including the role of religion and that those who ignore it misapprehend how those who lived during the war saw the conflict.--Utah Historical Quarterly

Rable's sweeping synthesis invites reflection on the growing body of work on religion in the Civil War and on the meaning of 'a religious history' of the war.--Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Research [this] estimable warrants delighted admiration, even were it presented without any special eclat--as so often is the case. But Rable's prose breaks the mold and makes God's Almost Chosen Peoples gratifying reading, accessible to any audience. . . . Interesting and important.--America's Civil War

I lamented the end of this book. Rable's recounting was so gripping and moving that one simply wanted more. Rable is a historian's historian, one who has sifted an enormous mound of evidence, dealt fairly with it, made good sense of it, and spun a captivating tale.--Mid-America Journal of Theology

There are precious few religious histories of the [Civil] war. . . . God's Almost Chosen Peoples is less judgmental and more expansive.--Sociology of Religion

Rable taps into the extensive scholarly literature on Civil War chaplains." --The North Carolina Historical Review

An excellent analysis. . . . Stands out for its accessibility and thorough research. . . . Highly recommended for readers of Civil War history or American religious history.--Library Journal

Teachers, scholars, and parents should welcome this work and its contribution to Cherokee scholarship.--Journal of Appalachian Studies

The most comprehensive and deeply researched account of the role of religion in the American Civil War to date. . . . No other study has canvassed such a collection of source materials on the topic. . . . God's Almost Chosen Peoples should become the starting point for any future studies of religion and the Civil War.--Civil War Book Review

Rable handles these topics with skill. His book sets a high standard for historians who might want to delve deeper into the relationship between war and religion. . . .Important, pathbreaking book. Highly recommended. Most levels/libraries." --Choice

This work harbors an inner virtue worthy of its subjects. . . . Rable has recorded [religion's] voice with both particular singularity and universal resonance, providing a full soundtrack to the largely silent film that has been Civil War religious history.--Southern Historian

[This] book will enjoy wide circulation among scholars and will long stand as the starting place for anyone interested in this topic.--Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

Rable's sweeping book synthesizes a massive amount of primary source material and provides a narrative that unfolds as intensely as the war it chronicles.--Journal of American History

Brilliant and groundbreaking. . . . Rable's engrossing study of the role of religion in the Civil War will stand as the definitive religious history of America's most divisive conflict.--Publishers Weekly, starred review

This long overdue book will interest those who care about American religious history, the Civil War, and church history in general.--Mid-America Journal of Theology

Encompasses a wide range of religious expression in the United States at the time. . . . Contains many anecdotes that illustrate how religion played an essential part in the war.--University of Alabama News

Religion in the Civil War has been an understudied subject, but Rable's thorough study goes a long way toward rectifying the neglect. . . . A heroic feat of research.--James M. McPherson, New York Review of Books

A groundbreaking account. . . . Examining a wide range of published and unpublished documents . . . Rable illuminates the broad role of religion during the Civil War. . . . The only comprehensive religious history of the war. . . . Will make an important addition to your Civil War library. . . . Excellent.--Lone Star Book Review

Award-winning historian George Rable offers the most expansive and thorough take on the subject to date . . . . The most complex and detailed analysis of religion and the Civil War yet written.--Methodist History

God's Almost Chosen Peoples is one of the most significant books published in recent years on a Civil War subject. Impeccably researched and gracefully written, it fills a significant void in the historiography of the conflict….God's Almost Chosen Peoples should stand for years as the definitive work on religion and the Civil War. The author's research is meticulous, his narrative flowing, and his judgments sound. Dr. Rable's important book is recommended without reservation.--Blue and Gray Magazine


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Product Details

  • Series: Littlefield History of the Civil War Era
  • Hardcover: 586 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; 1St Edition edition (November 29, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807834262
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807834268
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #962,105 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
George C. Rable says that during the American Civil War, "Loyalty to the nation could not be separated from loyalty to God." This was the case regardless of which "nation" one was part of. Both sides believed they were doing the Lord's work. A lack of patriotism equaled a lack of faith, or even atheism. "One could be a good citizen without being a Christian, an Indiana Baptist association conceded, but one could not be a Christian without being a good citizen." At the same time, in his address to the Georgia General Assembly, Confederate preacher Benjamin Palmer said: "Our cause is preeminently the cause of God himself, and every blow struck by us in defense of his supremacy."

During church services, it was common to "confess" the sins of the nation, though these sins were mostly attributed to the other side. While the North pointed to slavery and rebellion as the cause of God's wrath, the South blamed it on the Yankee's "atheism" and oppression:

"Lincoln, like the Egyptian Pharaoh, had hardened his heart against eleven states that sought to leave the house of bondage."

Preachers throughout the Union and Confederacy found no shortage of Old Testament stories to represent their plight: the Exodus, the division of the twelve tribes (used skillfully by both sides), Israel's battles with the Philistines, the Southern David fighting the Northern Goliath (less popular after Union victories), and so on.

Rable shows how religion was even used to justify slavery. In a sermon preached in Savannah, Stephen Elliott called slavery a "divinely guarded system, planted by God, protected by God, and arranged for his own wise purposes." Calls for abolition were clear displays of the godlessness of the North.
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Format: Hardcover
At the time of the Civil War America was a Christian Protestant nation. Public religion is both accepted and expected at all levels. While religious freedom is the law, religious tolerance is not public policy. Catholics suffer from the idea that their allegiance is to the Pope not to America. There are very few Jews but they are subject to the standard discrimination against them. The physical attacks Mormons suffered drove them out of the United States. Westward expansion brought America and the Saints back into contact creating a series of problems for both sides. If you were not a religious person privately, publicly you accepted religion and were respectful of it. This was not a problem for the majority. If you were not a church member, you were a believer. God was a participant in the life of people and of the nation. The public request His guidance and seeks His blessing on all undertakings. While people might fail to be good Christians, the majority is aware of their failings and worry about their soul. These attitudes are common to both sides and carried by both sides into the war.
This is not "Church History" although the actions of churches are very important to the story. This is not a history of the revivals that swept the armies and the nation, although these revivals are important to the story. This is a comprehensive look at American's religious feelings. This book looks at how these feelings impact people's views on slavery, secession and the war's causalities. Religion sustained the both sides. They see victory as evidence of God's favor and defeat as a reason to pray for victory. Death is God's will and the dead are martyrs to the cause residing with God in Haven.
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The title of George Rable's new book on the Civil War, "God's Almost Chosen Peoples" (2010) derives from a speech that Lincoln gave on February 21, 1861 to the New Jersey Senate en route to his inaugaration in Washington, D.C. Lincoln said: "I shall be a humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty and of this, his almost chosen people."
During the Civil War, religious Americans, North and South, had a strong sense of divine providence. They read the same Bible and prayed to the same God. They tended to think that God had a special providence for the United States which they analogized loosely to the ancient Israelites of the Old Testament.

Rable's book examines how people of faith tried to understand the Civil War in the years leading up to and including the conflict. He offers a complex, detailed, and thoughtful account of a subject that his received relatively little sustained attention in Civil War studies. Rable holds the Charles Summersell Chair in Southern History at the University of Alabama. He is best-known for his book, "Fredericksburg, Fredericksburg!" which was awarded the Lincoln Prize. His new book on Civil War religious history is dense and difficult. He offers important theological background for examining how people of faith viewed religion during the Civil War era. Rable has read an extraordinary range of original source material and religious texts, including sermons, denominational papers and statements, religious newsletters, diaries, among other sources. The bibliography and the end notes are massive. Rable examines both the Union and the Confederacy. He considers a variety of religious denominations, even though his focus is on American evangelical Protestantism.
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