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The Union Warby Gary W. Gallagher
"...it is surprising that leading Civil War historian Gary W. Gallagher, in his book The Union War, gives aid and comfort to his scholarly enemies by launching his own attack on other specialists in the Civil War era. A professor of history at the University of Virginia, Gallagher has been an establishment stalwart. He is the editor of a respected series on significant Civil War battles and campaigns; author of a number of books on the conflict and its cultural legacies, including The Confederate War (1997); and a mentor to many of the field's most prominent young scholars." Kevin Adams, The Wilson Quarterly (Read the entire Wilson Quarterly review)
Synopses & Reviews
Even one hundred and fifty years later, we are haunted by the Civil War—by its division, its bloodshed, and perhaps, above all, by its origins. Today, many believe that the war was fought over slavery. This answer satisfies our contemporary sense of justice, but as Gary Gallagher shows in this brilliant revisionist history, it is an anachronistic judgment.
In a searing analysis of the Civil War North as revealed in contemporary letters, diaries, and documents, Gallagher demonstrates that what motivated the North to go to war and persist in an increasingly bloody effort was primarily preservation of the Union. Devotion to the Union bonded nineteenth-century Americans in the North and West against a slaveholding aristocracy in the South and a Europe that seemed destined for oligarchy. Northerners believed they were fighting to save the republic, and with it the world’s best hope for democracy.
Once we understand the centrality of union, we can in turn appreciate the force that made northern victory possible: the citizen-soldier. Gallagher reveals how the massive volunteer army of the North fought to confirm American exceptionalism by salvaging the Union. Contemporary concerns have distorted the reality of nineteenth-century Americans, who embraced emancipation primarily to punish secessionists and remove slavery as a future threat to union—goals that emerged in the process of war. As Gallagher recovers why and how the Civil War was fought, we gain a more honest understanding of why and how it was won.
Book News Annotation:
Gallagher (history, U. of Virginia) presents this new history of the Civil War, examining the makeup and motivations of the Union armies and positing that a philosophical and political devotion to the Union as a concept, as an indicator of American exceptionalism and the righteousness of American history as it had progressed so far, motivated the hundreds of thousands of volunteers that fed the Northern army's ranks. The volume includes numerous illustrations as well as several reproductions of period photographs. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Today, many believe the Civil War was fought over slavery. This view satisfies our contemporary sense of justice, but as Gallagher's searing revisionist history shows, it is an anachronistic judgment. Northern citizen-soldiers fought the war to preserve the Union. Emancipation was secondary to the war’s primary goal of safeguarding the republic.
About the Author
Gary W. Gallagher is John L. Nau III Professor of History at the University of Virginia.
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