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The Slaves' War: The Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  411 ratings  ·  59 reviews
The first narrative history of the Civil War told by the very people it freed

Groundbreaking, compelling, and poignant, The Slaves’ War delivers an unprecedented vision of the nation’s bloodiest conflict. An acclaimed historian of nineteenth-century and African-American history, Andrew Ward gives us the first narrative of the Civil War told from the perspective of those
Hardcover, 386 pages
Published June 1st 2008 by Houghton Mifflin
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Jason Koivu
Feb 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
A collection of quotes from former slaves with a focus on the Civil War.

This one's been sitting on my tbr pile for a while now. February seemed a good month to read it. Glad I did. I learned some surprising insights that made it all worth it.

The narrative is a bit disjointed at times since Andrew Ward is acting more as a compiler/editor than an author. It's quote after quote with a statement or two that mostly sets up a section or acts as a bridge of ideas when needed. Still, Ward relies on the
Feb 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
I read Battle Cry of Freedom several months ago and felt immersed in the politics and battles of the Civil War. It was excellent and comprehensive to say the least. The Slaves' War, though, fills in a gap that was missing-- the point of view of the slaves. This book is told through slave narratives, so the result is a first person account of how the war affected black people as well as their masters who stayed home from the war. I found it fascinating to read the mixed feelings slaves had toward ...more
Robert Owen
In “The Slaves’ War” Andrew Ward uses various former slave narratives to add vibrancy to a tale recounting the major arcs of the Civil War. As the attempt is noble and the history, important, I wish that I could say that I enjoyed this book more than I actually did.

Structurally, Ward lays out principal events of the war as the framework to which dozens of former slaves are summoned and given brief moments to share their testimony. From this effort, Ward teases an interesting, multi-faceted pict
The Slaves' War does two very important things; firstly, it takes the Civil War and shatters any romanticism surrounding it. It wasn't romantic, it was an apocalypse. Secondly, it takes the institution of slavery and personalizes it. In this book slavery is not background to the Civil War. Instead, former slaves who lived through the Civil War are put front and center, and they tell us about the war through their eyes. The result is a first person account of the war, slavery, and Reconstruction ...more
James (JD) Dittes
A comprehensive look at the war from slaves' perspectives. As an American literature teacher, I'm so grateful to have this resource for my lessons on slavery and the Civil War. The book is about 60% quotes, and Ward's prose is spare, meant only to connect the dots and introduce the ideas.

The book focuses unblinkingly on some of the problems faced by slaves during that time. Those who escaped often ended up in disease-ridden "Contraband Camps." Others were "refugeed" away from the front lines to
Joseph Belser
May 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was very good. Of course, any book of history which relies on interviews given years after, can be problematic. However, the author realizes the potential pitfalls and inaccuracies of eyewitness accounts and memory and acknowledges them. Like, any good book of history, this shows that one can’t lump all experiences of a group of people together. Slaves during the war had a multitude of experiences and had a multitude of feelings about slavery, the war, and the Union. Slaves encountered both ...more
Jul 30, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
I saw Ward on the Daily Show, and thought the premise of the book was interesting, so I got it via interlibrary loan. It's sort of oddly constructed; he tells the story of the war in chronological order, by stitching together quotes from former slaves. Reading the first chapter, I was suddenly reminded of the street scene in the movie "Fallen" where the demon transfers from one person to the next in a long series. That's how the narrative feels, jumping from one former slave's recollections to t ...more
Mar 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a very valuable history book, based on oral stories of former enslaved people. They were often privy to intimate knowledge on the white masters, even as the latter tried to hide information from them. Their descriptions on how Southerners --and often Union army members too-- acted during the years of the war, definitely breaks much of the prevailing "knowledge" about the topic. True, it is mostly tragic and painful, but also, sometimes funny and even joyful. There is one scene that stick ...more
Sep 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: justice-racism
I think this book is valuable, as it organizes a bunch of information in a way that that it hadn't been organized before. All the narratives of the formerly enslaved people had been published before, but nobody had collected the pieces that were during the Civil War and organized them by area and sequence. It gives an interesting slice of experiences.

There was a lot I didn't love about the book. I'm not a military buff; the book would be best for someone who is interested in the wartime strateg
Sandy Vaughan
Jul 31, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: listened
The Slaves' War: The Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves UNABRIDGED By Andrew Ward
Narrated by Richard Allen
This is the first narrative of the Civil War told by the very people that it freed. Groundbreaking, compelling, and poignant, The Slaves' War delivers an unprecedented vision of the nation's bloodiest conflict.

An acclaimed historian of 19th-century and African American history, Andrew Ward gives us the first narrative of the Civil War told from the perspective of those whose destiny it
Feb 08, 2010 added it
Really cool book. The author did research and presents stories, facts, folklore and detailed battle accounts about the civil war arena with first hand accounts from former slaves. This book gives detailed accounts of how the slaves and the owners family huddled together and lived together in fear while the 'men' were off at battle. It recounts narratives from virtual witnesses to history who were present when key battle decisions were made. It delves into mans cruelty to man and leaves you prayi ...more
May 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Amazing. I recommend.

It's fascinating to see the war from the point of view of the slave. This is just a collection of letters by slaves -- or dictacted from their words -- but I wrong the book by saying "just" a collection. It's a wonderful collection. Edited snappily. Quick read.

Having slaves remember the war, and talk about how they didn't dare go out into the woods at night after a big battle because the vultures just couldn't hold everything they had eaten the day before.... Lord..... Some
Jun 24, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Reading the actual words of slaves about their thoughts during the Civil War is fascinating. There are a lot of enlightening, sad and sometimes even funny tidbits that make the book worth reading. Honestly, it was a little difficult to read though because the flow of the book is very jerky and erratic due to the fact that the majority of the book is derived from piecemeal interviews. It is worth the read though.
Dec 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Bottom-up history...just the way I like it...reads like a piece of music and not structured thematically. GIves one a panaroma from the people that counted the most, the enslaved. Terrible, as in inciting "terror" in some parts. Good read, perhaps necessary given today's racial tensions in the country.
Apr 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Fascinating, well-researched collection of firsthand accounts. All primary sources woven together by an excellent writer. I can't recommend this book highly enough.
Dec 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Excellent. New insights re slavery & emancipation from the slaves' viewpoint. Also knew the author in HS. ...more
Feb 22, 2020 rated it liked it
This is a collection of personal narratives of people who were enslaved at the time of the Civil War. The author selected the stories and descriptions (some very short, some long) and organized them by topic, but his commentary is sparse. He seems to try to get out of the way and let the stories speak for themselves. That was the right choice I think. For me, learning about the Civil War from the perspective of dozens of African-Americans was eye-opening. Many stories were horrifying, most were ...more
Feb 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
You really should have a good working understanding of the civil war chronology and battle flow to follow the timeline and put the comments into perspective when reading this book. It does cover the wide range of reactions from the ex-slaves and gives a good understanding of the complexity and wide variety of relationships between slaves and owners just before and during the civil war.
Crystal Toller
Sep 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
I got this on audio from the local library. Really enjoyed hearing about the Civil War from the perspective of former slaves. The author did a very good job of presenting the words of the former slaves. A very interesting book and it definitely increased my knowledge of the Civil War. Highly recommend this book.
Steven Yenzer
Oct 13, 2017 rated it liked it
As one of the few books on this subject, The Slaves' War is an important record, and Ward's scholarship is important. However, I found the presentation a little lacking; after awhile it just felt like a litany of quotes (which it was).
May 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Fascinating view into the Civil War on the ground. The mixture of stories is dismaying and a pale reflection of the chaos felt by those that lived through it.
Aug 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating book.
Jul 21, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was informative, but read something like a textbook.
Joe Skladanowski
Oct 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It's rare for historians to tell THE PEOPLE'S history. This book does just that, and it does it superbly. I'm grateful that I had the opportunity to read from a perspective I've never heard before.
A little dry at times, but overall, a fascinating look at the Civil War and the beginning of Reconstruction in the words of former slaves.

Some interesting tidbits:

There is a picture of Custer with his old friend, now his prisoner, Lt. James Barroll Washington, CSA, George Washington's
great-great-grandnephew. I wonder what Washington would have said were he still alive.

Lincoln set the slaves free and then got assassinated for doing it just as President William McKinley would be assassinated afte
Dec 07, 2009 rated it liked it
Full of fascinating personalities, this book. The range of experience of the former slaves and freedmen and -women whose quoted words form most of the book's text are so diverse, each having experienced the war in a different place and from a slightly different perspective, each having different responses to the events they saw or heard about, and each with different hopes for the outcome. The book's final chapter is heartbreaking - many former slaves having found life after the war almost as co ...more
Just A. Bean
Fascinating companion to other civil war reading, but I wouldn't listen to it on its own as it really only sketches in the greater context. That is to leave room to highlight the slave voices, and it's as it should be, but I think one would feel a bit lost just reading this.

The voices themselves are great. At times I thought it would have been more coherent to follow four or five people through the whole war, instead of getting different voices for each topic or period, though we do run into som
Jul 29, 2008 added it
Shelves: own
This was not what I expected from the cover flap nor from an interview with the author. During the interview words such as "homefront" and "civilian" were used. However, the book spent more time discussing the troop movements with slave narrative entries included to describe the troop movements. Very little was included about the homefront or those left in slavery. The book was ok, some of the writing a little less than I'd have expected from a multi-published author. I would recommend the book ...more
May 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I like rounding out my history with narratives, diaries, etc..of the un-famous people who were at the scene when possible. This was a horrible time and it certainly was a painful read. What humans could do to each other and sadly still happens in some countries just makes me incredibly depressed.

It was interesting to hear that some slaves actually were against being liberated. Either they didn’t have it so bad or they were totally brainwashed by their “Masters”. I agree with other reviews of th
Oct 13, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction, the-south
Take the narratives of hundreds---perhaps thousands---of slaves during the civil war on various topics such as their owners' antebellum behavior, transporting written communications, Sherman's march to the sea, and the destruction of Atlanta and weave them together in the span of about three hundred pages. What do you get? Some interesting and tasty morsels, but not a very satisfying meal. There are too many people, no one to latch on to and start to care about, and the subject changed so often ...more
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