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What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 3, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Manning's subject--slavery as the prime cause of the Civil War--is hardly unusual, but what makes this study unique, provocative, and immensely valuable is her approach. She utilizes the letters, diaries, and regimental newspapers, all written during the war, to glean the attitudes, hopes, and even the fears of soldiers toward the institution of slavery and emancipation. Unlike many previous works on the subject, Manning ignores the writings of elites and emphasizes the opinions of common soldiers, North and South, white and black. Some of her conclusions are striking and likely to generate intense debate. Although acknowledging that many Union soldiers enlisted to preserve the Union rather than to fight slavery, she asserts that both slavery and emancipation were constant topics of discussion as early as 1861. She disputes that nonslaveholding Confederate soldiers (who were the overwhelming majority) fought primarily to defend hearth and home from Yankee invaders. Rather, she maintains that the defense of slavery was intimately tied to their sense of manhood, honor, and their place in the Southern social structures. A well-argued examination. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1St Edition edition (April 3, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307264823
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307264824
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #597,439 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By greg taylor VINE VOICE on March 12, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It is my opinion that this book is the beginning of the end for the claim that the predominant cause of the Civil War wasn't slavery. Slavery was the primary single issue and it was the issue that energized most of the other issues that contributed to the war. Having stated that, I intend simply to summarize how she did her research and some of her conclusions.

Manning's book is the beginning of the end for other causal explanations because she relies on the testimonies that should bear the most weight, i.e., the wartime letters home of the men in blue and gray who fought at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, the Wilderness, Cold Harbor, Shiloh and all the other horrific battles of the war.
Her research is pretty amazing and should first be assessed by looking at her list of Primary Sources in the back of the book which is organized by state. She traveled to every state that was involved in the Civil War and roamed through 45 local libraries and historical societies. She went through larger collections like those of Military History Institute of the U.S. Army and the Library of Congress. She read published collections of Civil War letters and innumerable state documents relating to the War.
Her focus was on the enlisted man and on letters actually written during the war rather than memoirs that were written in the postwar years. She gathered biographical data of the various correspondents whose letters she collected and noted their place of origin, their occupation, educational attainments, etc. She then selected 477 Confederate soldiers and 657 Union soldiers to focus on because their collected backgrounds were representative of the armies as a whole.
She also uncovered some 100+ regimental papers (largely published by enlisted men) and used them as well.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Obi-Wan Kenobi on October 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a Southerner (from Kentucky) and descendent of slave-owners, Confederates, and Yankees as well, I have to state that this book thoroughly clears up the erroneous facts concerning why both Northern and Southern men fought in the American Civil War.

Living in the South especially, and currently living in Georgia, I've seen the general public inundated with such propaganda that the American Civil War was over "states' rights" and/or "Northern economic interests", etc...

But this book clears up the rhetoric and explains why both sides fought, using extensive research on original soldiers' letters and diaries.

Of special note is that the book is extremely well written, with excellent usage of the English language throughout, as well as focused and logical arguments to support the author's facts.

In summary, this is one of the top 5 books I've read on the American Civil War.

(just a lagniappe...the author - Chandra Manning, a professor at Georgetown University - is originally from Ireland.)
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43 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Lawrence Weber on April 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
What this Cruel War is Over, is Chandra Manning's first book. The book is about what ordinary soldiers thought about the relationship between slavery and the Civil War. Manning's book picks up where historians like Bell Wiley, Reid Mitchell, and James McPherson left off. The main idea of the book is that both the Union and Confederate soldiers understood that the "only" cause of the Civil War was slavery. Manning argues that the way each side responded to that fact shaped the outcome of the war. Union soldiers broad definition of Republican government as a great global experiment, and understanding of liberty as something moral and universal, created a less selfish soldier who was able to put the Union and emancipation first. Manning also argues that northern soldiers had clearer war goals that were more in line with the war aims of the government, and were less likely to be disillusioned than their southern counterparts. Manning makes the case that southern soldiers were more focused on individual and personal concerns rather than on central war aims outlined by a centralized Confederate government that was often unable to take care of its soldiers and citizens. The one universally accepted given by southerners was that slavery was better than anything the Union had to offer, and that emancipating the slave meant enslaving the white man. The book is a very good start for Manning, and is sure to be studied by historians and students of history hoping to gain a more complete understanding of the common Civil War soldier's experience.
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Ronan Rooney on July 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Chandra Manning's first book, "What This Cruel War Was Over," squarely rebuts the popular belief that Civil War soldiers did not care about slavery. Manning places in the lap of the reader countless letters penned by soldiers to families and loved ones attesting to slavery's role in starting the war, stirring up morale, and being the ultimate reason to fight on. Instead of leaving the telling of history to speeches by great generals and politicians, Manning firmly directs our eyes to the very words of the rank and file who gave the war meaning.

Personally, I found the incredible degree of dissent within both the Union and Confederate camps to be most interesting. Some idealistic Union soldiers protested slavery to assure liberty and freedom for all, while other soldiers kept rigidly racist views of slaves but still demanded an end to slavery because they felt slavery would inevitably lead to more clashes between the North and South. Southern soldiers, frustrated by the growing power of the Confederate government to seize their family's assets for the war effort, often questioned their own motivation for defending a government as invasive as the North. Still, fearful of a world in which former slaves might come to own their land and intermarry with white women, Southern soldiers persisted on in battle for the Confederacy. Even yet, some Confederate soldiers thought serving in the war might be a foot in the door to someday owning slaves.

Of particular interest to the reader will be letters from African-American Union soldiers who labored in battle not only to end slavery but to earn equal pay and respect from the army. Despite their additional hardships, these soldiers came to be known as some of the bravest and most dedicated soldiers on the battlefield.
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