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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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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.
*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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The final image viewed through this moral lens is the American civil religion that arose from the war and unified Americans afterward. Stout argues that Americans incarnated this civil religion, which was "religious and ideological, cultural and theological," through the blood sacrifice of soldiers and civilians. These blood sacrifices occurred in a war where each side blocked moral reflection from the outset due to certitude regarding the moral justification and role of God in their efforts. After more than 600,000 deaths, patriotic ideals that stressed service to one's nation enabled a defeated South and triumphant North to rise together and continue as one.
At the end of Stout's work, I sat stunned at the artful way Stout had successfully woven his argument throughout the historical narrative. It was almost unbelievable that Lincoln, the savior of American civil religion, died on Good Friday. Stout saved his most powerful association between nation and religion for last and it served to reinforce his argument in a way that was memorable and avoidant of a trite conclusion. Stout's narrative is one I shall not soon forget.
To me, this is history as it should be done: winsomely, honestly, and engagingly. Stout shows both sides of the conflict, warts and all, in a fascinating look at the Civil War.
Great, great book.