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What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War Paperback – March 11, 2008

4.2 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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 text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (March 11, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307277321
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307277329
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #47,337 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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What were the causes of the Civil War? Some say slavery. Others that is was state's rights vs. preserving the union. But what about the soldiers, the enlisted men who fought the war, what did they think? Were they as racist as we now perceive? Were they fighting for their homes? For their country? Why did our country fight it's most horrific, most bloody war for four long years, amongst itself? What possibly could start and sustain such a conflict? Historians, history books, modern thinking have all created certain perceptions of the war, and, for the most part, tried to rewrite history to make it more comfortable to us.

This brilliant, magnificently thorough book is an examination of the thoughts and attitudes of the enlisted soldiers of the Civil War, Union and Confederate, black and white, as represented in their letters, diaries, essays, newsletters, and other writings. Manning investigates their opinions on the causes and purposes of the war and slavery, which are one in the same. She brilliantly delves into how those opinions, thoughts, and attitudes were formed by the differing societies of the North and the South (particularly their religious beliefs, their societal demands, and class and gender roles), how this civil war would form a new definition of the United States.

The Civil War, in four horrific years, absolutely revolutionized thought and society in the United States. Our country fought it's most bloody, most horrific war, not only amongst itself, but due to racism. It is a shocking horror that racism can not only be that entrenched, but that motivating of a force. A force that can cause a Civil War between the ideals of equality and freedom and the personal desires for safety, success, and preservation of loved ones.
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