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What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War
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What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  173 ratings  ·  20 reviews
In this unprecedented account, Chandra Manning uses letters, diaries, and regimental newspapers to take the reader inside the minds of Civil War soldiers-black and white, Northern and Southern-as they fought and marched across a divided country. With stunning poise and narrative verve, Manning explores how the Union and Confederate soldiers came to identify slavery as the ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published March 11th 2008 by Vintage (first published 2007)
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As a white Southern man, who identifies as an anti-racist this was a tough read. While as a child I think I was taught that the war was about Black enslavement or more likely "a war to free the slaves," that the North was good and the South was bad, by the time I was a teen-ager, I became curious about, then came to embrace, and continued to cling to view that most white Southerners who fought on the side of the Confederacy believed they were just defending a "home" that they loved. I sought out ...more
Joseph Stieb
I really enjoyed this concise and engrossing book, even if the argument was a stretch. Manning contends that Civil War soldiers believed that slavery was at the heart of this conflict and was motivated them to sign up, fight, and persevere. Unlike other books about Civil War soldier motivations, Manning differentiates widely between Union white, Union black, and Confederate soldiers on the topic of slavery. She says that all three understood slavery to be the cause of the sectional conflict, but ...more
This book is amazing! An account of civil war soldiers attitudes towards slavery and black people as tracked through their letters. A good balance of union confederate and african american soldiers nuanced stances, and a treasure trove of information for me in considering modern race issues with a historical point of view.
An entirely engaging addition to the growing literature regarding the perceptions and motivations of Civil War soliders, mostly enlisted men, both federal and confederate. Manning establishes the centrality of slavery as the focus of motives/war aims in the minds of men who actually fought. Highly recommended. Great bibliography.
Manning is now a professor of history at Georgetown University. In my next life perhaps I can be a historian and spend my days searching the Civil War records in the National Archives.
Much of the book is from the soldiers perspective, their stories and how the purpose of the war both North and South influenced their lives. Union soldiers came to the opinions that the sins and shame of a nation would be purged and lifted as the union prevailed. Confederates would lose everything that mattered (f
This is an important book. The author, who is an academic historian, did an amazing amount of research and presented in this book the attitudes, thoughts and words of soldiers--written in letters and diaries and military newsletters--during the war. These were not memoirs or remembrances, they were written "real time". The book illustrates the differences in the cultures of North and South and the meaning of war for the different armies of soldiers. It focuses on the ordinary soldiers and how th ...more
As a record of profound social change, this book is terrific. Manning's commendable research has brought to light the changing thoughts of Civil War soldiers, Black and White, Union and Confederate, about the causes of the war. Her sources are engrossing, lively, often hilarious. I assume she's picked out the best quotes from a lot of rather humdrum letters, camp newspapers, and so on, but I still had a sense of the great wealth of nineteenth-century American rhetoric underlying what she's raise ...more
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
I liked this one a lot. I'm still figuring out what I think about good ways to teach and learn history, but one of the things I firmly believe in is that primary sources - material (usually written, but can be audio or visual) from the time being studied - are crucial. You have to look at those if you really want to understand whatever it is that you're studying.

And this book does just that. She cites the letters from rank and file soldiers to support her thesis, which is that such soldiers beli
A heavily thesis-driven work that seeks to carry the conversation about soldiers' motivations firmly in the direction of the slavery debate. Manning believes that most Civil War enlisted men came to realize as early as 1861 that slavery was at the heart of the war and either sought to defend or eradicate it. Noted for its use of regimental newspapers, a relatively untapped source, Manning's narrative of the war nonetheless reads as if some of its more unseemly parts were uncomfortably stuffed in ...more
Manning's scholarly work is a reasoned, well-balanced examination of what ordinary soldiers thought about the relationship between slavery and the American Civil War. Using Union and Conferate primary sources, she demonstrates slavery--not abstract arguments such as state's rights or republican government--was the focus of soldiers' view of the war. The book enhances our understanding of why slavery mattered to the Confederate rank and file, the majority of whom owned no slaves, as well as illus ...more
I enjoyed Manning's inclusion of both Confederate and Union soldiers, soldiers from the Eastern and Western theaters of the war, as well as African-American soldiers. Officers and politicians were largely excluded, which was refreshing. All in all, an interesting and different approach to the American Civil War and how slavery was identified as the basis of the war by soldiers on both sides, and what that implicated for them, especially with their different ideas on government and union. It has ...more
The blurb on the back says Manning writes with "narrative verve," but when paragraphs begin with "finally," "in short," and "in addition," and your final chapter is titled "Conclusion," you are not on friendly terms with narrative. That said, this is a deep and informative look at what soldiers and others affected by the war were writing in letters, so it's an invaluable window into the minds of what they were doing and thinking at the time.
Colleen Browne
Every student of American history should read this well researched and well written book. Anyone who wants to argue Lost Cause myth after reading this either didn't read it, is lying or in complete denial. Every page is well documented relying on the letters and journals of Civil War soldiers. Excellent book!
I found that it lost a little steam after opening with some real eye-opening information about soldiers' views on the causes and goals of the war. Still, it was a very interesting read that I hope will serve to shape the debate about what drove the North and the South to war.
Joseph Scipione
This is an ok history of the Civil War through the diaries and letter of soldiers on both sides. However each chapter has the same basic argument and the author repeats herself quite a bit as a result of this.
Fascinating look at how soldiers, both black and white for the Union and white Confederates, thought about the war and slavery. The evolution of white Union soldiers' racial views is particularly interesting.
Idea was good - studying the letters and camp newspapers of Civil War soldiers. But too much paraphrasing and not enough extended quotes from the primary sources.
May 20, 2007 Sharon marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
It's all about slavery--soldiers' attitudes based on their own writings and regimental newspapers
It's basically a thesis. A different look at the civil war, but a thesis nonetheless.
Dark and revealing
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