What This Cruel War Was Over

Published By: Vintage

Book Category: Non-Fiction, History

Buy From Amazon


Reviewed by Sharron Stockhausen

I had a history professor who challenged us to look at WWII from the perspective of WWI, not from the perspective of today and the hindsight that offers. The challenge made history more real and understandable.

Chandra Manning offers readers the same challenge—look at the Civil War from the perspective of a nation born only a few decades before, rather than from today. When we inflict our hindsight judgment on history, we fail to give those who created it a fair shake.

Union soldiers’ letters showed they entered the war from the idea of wanting to prove the republican self-government worked that was based on the Declaration of Independence less than a century earlier. The world was watching the new country, and the Union soldiers saw secession as egregious.

Confederate soldiers likened their revolution against the Union to the colonies’ revolution against Great Britain. The new Confederate government was about promoting white liberty while protecting slavery and the Confederate way of life.

Slavery was hardly on the radar screen for most white Union soldiers. Their concern was the success of the new government. Eventually the Union soldier saw that slavery is what tore the Union apart. From that perspective, it’s easy to see how the Union soldier could fight to eliminate the very thing that threatened the new government—slavery.

From Lincoln’s election on, the North’s position was to prohibit the expansion of slavery. The war was a necessity, in the South’s view, if their homes and families were to remain safe.

Chandra Manning offers a chronological accounting of the war from the people who fought it. As you read, you can see how both the northern and southern soldiers’ attitudes evolved. Slaveholders and non-slaveholders held similar beliefs on the war’s beginnings and its impact on keeping the fight going.

Any Civil War or history buff will enjoy this book. It’s well documented with 85 pages of notes and 22 pages of primary sources. You’ll be hard pressed to find so much at your fingertips again.

Armchair Interviews says: Treat yourself to a walk forward through history. You see things from a different perspective.

Voted one of the 101 Best Websites For Writers in 2006, 2007, 2008 & 2009