Mike Rogers's Reviews > In the Presence of Mine Enemies: The Civil War in the Heart of America, 1859-1864

In the Presence of Mine Enemies by Edward L. Ayers
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Jan 16, 2012

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In his book "In the Presence of Mine Enemies", Edward Ayers takes two typical counties during the Civil War, one from the South and one from the North, and compares and contrasts them. In the early 90's, Ayers started the "Valley of the Shadow" project. After choosing two counties linked by the Shenandoah Valley, Franklin to the north of the Mason-Dixon line and Augusta to the south, Ayers obtained relevant documents from both counties during the Civil War period, transcribed them with the help of an army of UVA students, and put them all on the internet. The project alone is remarkable, and has become a valuable online resource for the war, but Ayers went a step further. He dug through the collection that he himself created and used selected resources to write a history that compares and contrasts the counties. His results in some cases are typical and fit the stereotypes for each side, but they are simply astonishing in others. What is most noticeable in the end is that the two counties weren't all that different at the start of the war, and both became almost completely devoted to the side they were fighting for.

Ayers has written a book that successfully uses micro-history to tell the reader about individual people and events while maintaining the wider context and relevance to the Civil War period as a whole. With "In the Presence of Mine Enemies" Ayers has made a valuable and lasting contribution to Civil War scholarship.
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