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Upon the Altar of the Nation: A Moral History of the Civil War Paperback – Bargain Price, March 27, 2007

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The War That Forged a Nation
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James M. McPherson looks anew at the reasons America's civil war has remained a subject of intense interest for the past century and a half. Learn more

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In the Civil War, Union and Confederate soldiers alike marched to battle believing God was on their side. Stout, professor of American religious history at Yale (The New England Soul), artfully and eloquently examines the evolving rhetoric of warfare, both Northern and Confederate, within the rubric of "the just war" theory of conflict. Stout dissects such public documents as editorials, sermons and speeches, and private documents like diaries and letters, to trace the trajectory of both sides' rationales for war. But he also makes clear that most high-minded utterances obscured, rather than clarified, the economic issues that lay at the heart of the conflict. Stout argues that even today the moral justifications for the carnage ring louder than do the sordid dollar-and-cents realities that underlay sectional differences. As Stout shows, the Civil War remains with us today as an exercise of civil religion: altars of the two conflicting faiths stand side-by-side at Gettysburg and other venues, sacralized slices of patriotism painted in shades of gray or blue. Stout's contention that even the North engaged in immoral acts in prosecuting the war will rattle many, but the questions he raises are important in an era when humanitarian justifications for war are increasingly common. 24 b&w illus., 5 maps, not seen by PW. (On sale Jan. 23)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In this bayonet charge on romantic notions of the Civil War, Yale religious history professor Stout addresses a difficult historical question--What is the source of the unique "civil religion" of American patriotism?--by attempting to answer an equally difficult and potentially painful moral question: Was the American Civil War a "just war?" Stout's ambitious yet compelling thesis is that Americans' sacred devotion to their nation and its symbols is the product of massive blood sacrifice; as the war transformed from a just defensive war fought for politics and necessity into a moral crusade in which both sides fought under the banner of freedom, bloodshed infused Americans with new conceptions of nationhood and new depths of horror. Stout examines sermons, periodicals, editorials, and personal correspondence, and his argument tracks changes in religious rhetoric as calls for emancipation morph into calls for revenge; the book occasionally resembles recent scholarly examinations of total war and catastrophic nationalism in the European context. Impeccably sourced and highly engaging, the book will surely be controversial--the best histories often are. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (March 27, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143038761
  • ASIN: B005MWL7HG
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,711,833 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Helpful maps and illustrations.
Reynolds Potter
I highly recommend this book to all interested in history, ethics, and those seeking to better understand exactly it means to be an American.
Pastor C. R. Biggs
Dr. Stout has written a well balanced study of this war from the perspective of evaluating its moral issues for our society.
Thomas D. Mackie

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Reynolds Potter on July 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Since the history of the Civil War fills libraries, it's difficult to know where to begin to study the vast subject. Stout's superb work is an excellent place to start. The book's subtitle, "A Moral History of the Civil War", is an accurate description of what the book is about. Rather than just a history of battles, Stout supplies the context that stands behind the combat and the politics. The reader gets an appreciation for civilian life as the war continues from year to year. You come away with a sense of how and why the opposing sides justified their actions. Unlike many historians and other authors, Stout does not feel compelled to make every judgment for the reader. He lets his meticulous sources and endnotes speak for themselves, while he covers the war's biggest themes. This is a book to take your time on and linger over - it's not a history to skim, but the effort is worth it. Helpful maps and illustrations. Highest recommendation. If you always wanted to do some Civil War reading, I suggest pairing it with E. L. Doctorow's "The March" (which is excellent in audiobook format).
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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Stephan Appanotski on February 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Stout has answered many of the questions I previously held about the Civil War. I always wondered what the people during that period were thinking and what response (if any) they had to the enormous loss of life. It also raised many new questions and I hope Stout's book is the spark that will ignite more research into this area.

I noticed one of the other reviewers wrote that it was confusing; he says there is nothing edifying and the fundamental problem is the absence of a definition of what a 'moral' history is. To this I say, herein lies the most edifying aspect of the book, the fact that Stout does define what a moral history is, and in so doing, he turns a period of our history that might otherwise be nothing more than a blight, into something that might teach us valuable lessons and insights on what we might avoid.

The validity of Stout's historical methodology lies in the fact that he is a pioneer, and it is understandable that his is misunderstood. Some readers might try to put this book into categories they are familiar with, and when they find it does not fit neatly into their preconceived notions of what a history of the Civil War should look like, they might get frustrated. However, if you approach the book understanding that it is a new methodology and try seeing it through the lense of 'morality' and 'justice,' it has enormous implications.

My prediction is that Stout is a strong candidate for the Pulitzer with this ground-breaking book. I also predict that 'Upon the Altar of the Nation' will cause historians to ask a great deal of questions heretofor neglected. A whole new branch of history is on the horizon.
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26 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Pastor C. R. Biggs on August 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book is clearly written, informative, and brutally honest in that it asks questions about the morality of the Civil War that were not asked during this great conflict, and have many times not been addressed in subsequent histories of the war. This book does a great service to all humans made in God's image who struggle to understand what precisely this war was about, how this war still affects us all intellectually and emotionally today, and how we will tell this important story to our children. There were many sacrifices made in God's name and for the good of these United States in the Civil War, but there were many gross sins, intentional and unintentional, that blurred the vision of many church leaders, politicians, soldiers, and citizens in this watershed war that defines us all today! I agree with another reviewer that Professor Stout's honest and superbly written moral history of the American Civil War is the best place to start when considering this important war that has been told from many different perspectives. I highly recommend this book to all interested in history, ethics, and those seeking to better understand exactly it means to be an American. As a Christian, who also is an American citizen, this book truly helped me to look beyond my regional identity to identify myself with Christ's Kingdom made up of every tribe, tongue, nation and people. As the Bible teaches so clearly in every historical "hero" there is also a villain lurking in our flesh, and in every historical "villain" there is oftentimes an unexpected hero to be found within. As Professor Stout writes candidly in the introduction: "'Upon the Altar of the Nation' tells difficult stories of unjust conduct on both sides of the struggle.Read more ›
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Chimonsho on October 3, 2008
Format: Paperback
This is painful but essential reading for Americans, especially Civil War buffs, because of a basic but mistaken view of that conflict. If it was about heroic ordinary Rebs and Yanks or the greatness of Lee, Grant and Lincoln, then romance and sentiment prevail, adding to America's myth of exceptionalism. But the CW also can, and should, be about violence and the horrors of war; it certainly saw plenty of both. Stout fully covers many moral problems of wartime conduct, which greatly exercised veterans and survivors: massacres of defeated troops; targeting civilians and domestic economies; starvation and mistreatment of POWs; re-enslavement of freedpeople; and the constant invocation of God's will in support of each side. He also addresses a cruel if unintended factor. Strategy and tactics had not evolved along with technological advances, dooming many soldiers to brutal maiming or death. Enough narrative context keeps this from being a narrow specialized work, and Stout stresses the core economic motives of both sides. His emphasis on just-war theory could include more modern concepts of human rights, thus making the CW more comparable to World War II, which is usually viewed less sentimentally. Some small factual and interpretive errors occur: the account of Forts Henry and Donelson is muddled and partly unreliable; Champion's Hill was a key battle in the Vicksburg campaign, not Champion Hills; etc. Minor in themselves, together they aid those who will resist Stout's interpretation. This is a pity, because "Upon the Altar" greatly advances understanding of the war.
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