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The Slaves' War: The Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves Hardcover – June 10, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In Ward's groundbreaking history, the Civil War is recounted from the previously silent victims that it most directly affected: the slaves themselves. Through hundreds of interviews, diaries, letters and memoirs, Ward offers an entirely new perspective of the war and firm-voiced Richard Allen presents the material with tremendous passion. Allen reads at a solid pace, letting every word seep in so that by the end of the book, the outrageous tragedy of slavery saturates each listener. With believable and realistic shifts in tone and dialect, Allen displays his inherent storytelling talent by furthering the previously silenced voices of slaves. A truly compelling listening experience that demands repeated listenings. A Houghton Mifflin hardcover. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

Review

"This is a riveting book about the most important event in our history . . . readable and compelling." --Ken Burns
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1st Printing edition (June 10, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618634002
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618634002
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #379,987 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Kerry Walters VINE VOICE on May 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover
There are many excellent studies of black Civil War soldiers and equally good editions of letters and reminiscences from black veterans. (In fact, following the 1989 release of the film "Glory" about the black Massachusetts 54th, there was something of a flood of such books.) But until now, there really hasn't been a good study of the reactions of southern slaves to the war. Andrew Ward, familiar to Civil War buffs from his excellent River Run Red (2005) has changed that with his The Slaves' War.

Mr. Ward's book is perhaps best described as a hybrid between straightforward narrative and oral history. In ten well-written and organized chapters, he transcribes the chronological reminiscences of slaves from both eastern and western theaters of the war. The witnesses come from all walks: house and field slaves; skilled and unskilled; men, women, and children; slaves who eagerly followed the course of the war, and slaves who wanted nothing to do with it; slaves who were rented by their masters to dig fortifications, and slaves who remained on the farm while their white owners went to the front; slaves who remained convinced until their dying day that they'd met Lincoln on an incognito journey through the south he made before the war, and slaves who actually did observe Jefferson Davis on a regular basis (one black preacher humorously prayed: "Shake Jeff Davis over the mouth of hell, Lord, but don't drop him in"); slaves who welcomed blue-coated soldiers as harbingers of Jubilo, and slaves who, frightened by their masters' tales of northern barbarism, were frightened; and slaves, always and everywhere, distrusted by masters worried that all the northern-spawned talk of abolition would spawn rebellion south of the Mason-Dixon line.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Roderick S. Haynes on October 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As someone who has been an amateur Civil War historian for over 40 years, this is a glimpse of the war from an entirely new, and sobering perspective. The reader needs to understand Ward has captured the oral testimonies of former slaves, and as such, the style of presentation is unavoidably choppy and not congruent. But that pales in comparison to the CONTENT of what the former slaves relate in this book. It is a unique, and again, very sobering collection of stories. And I HIGHLY recommend reading it. I am adding it to my library.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Pearlman on June 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a superb telling of the story of the Civil War with running commentary in the actual words of slaves who saw it, fought it, endured it and lived to tell about what it was like for them and their fellows before, during and after the war. For anyone interested in the war, it provides a unique and invaluable perspective never seen before. For anyone interested in African American history, which of course should be every American who wants to be politically awake, this is a wonderful opportunity to let the people speak for themselves, a most welcome change in historical writing about these terrible and awesome events. Must read.....
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Steven R. Parr on January 23, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book is the product of extensive research. It is resourced and documented to perfection with hundreds of quotations and reminiscences of former slaves, but as importantly, it contextualizes them with a profound understanding of the age. Every library in the world should have it and everyone with any interest in American history should read it. The author even includes such information as the fact that by the time of the civil war only a very small percentage of the slaves were foreign-born, and most had been in America for generations, unlike a much larger percentage of the white population, making the black population virtually the second native Americans after the Indians. How many of us learned in school that freed slaves serving in the Northern Army were often put in the front of the front lines, like cannon fodder? History of course is perspectivistic in the description and interpretation of events. To quote and articulate the multiple perspectives of the lowest echelon of society in itself was an outstanding achievement. The book gives great insight on how and why discrimination became institutionalized, routed during and in the aftermath of the civil war after the institution of slavery itself was abolished. It has every bit the quality of the finest documentary, bringing that age to the light of day, and therefore shedding much light on this one. Read it.
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Format: Hardcover
It was one of those books that I ordered expecting it to languish on my shelves until I should happen to be in the mood for it. Though it sounded terribly interesting, interesting enough to prompt me to buy it, it was thick and had the sort of college-course-assignment vibe to it. But it didn’t languish nearly as long as I expected, and my expectations for how long it would take me to finish were even more exceeded.

The Slaves War by Andrew Ward is billed as “The Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves,” and that’s exactly what it is. Woven together with more standard historical battle accounts and report from generals are first-hand accounts from slaves collected during several interview projects in the early 20th century.

The book is arranged in chronological order, covering from just before the war through some of reconstruction. It’s incredibly interesting to see how the slaves’ ideas about and reactions to the Yankees change as the war goes on. From an initial fear of an unknown described to them as a monster, to an almost idolizing, to disgust, distrust and near hatred, there’s a very visible evolution that comes with the war, occupation and Reconstruction.

Nearly every anecdote popular about slavery and the Civil War seems to come out as true in some area another. The South was (is) a big place and there was great variety among slave-holders, slave treatment, and direct effects of the Civil War. Some stories of society in the mid 1880s seemed to have a striking resemblance to aspects of current society. Stop snitching has deep roots.
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