An examination of Civil War soldiers’ attitudes on race and slavery.

Manning (History, Georgetown Univ.) bases her study, originally her Ph.D. thesis at Harvard, on soldiers’ letters home, regimental newspapers and similar documentary evidence, much of it unpublished—and liberally quoted by the author. These materials confirm that even those who were neither slaveholders nor former slaves identified slavery as the main cause of the war. This is especially important in considering southern soldiers’ justifications for fighting a conflict in which few had any personal economic stake. For the Confederate soldier in the ranks, Manning argues, slavery was the validation of white manhood, even for non-slaveholders. As a result, soldiers on both sides firmly believed that the Union cause was ultimately the end of slavery—well before Lincoln committed the U.S. to that policy. Union soldiers moving into slaveholding areas got their first look at the reality of slavery early in the war, and many were radicalized by it. The northerners were appalled that many slaves were obviously the progeny of their owners—who nonetheless treated them as little better than barnyard animals. The degrading treatment of slave women and disrespect for the family was a disgrace in their eyes. As for the southerners, not even the failure of the Confederate government to provide for soldiers’ families at home outweighed importance of preserving slavery. Northern victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg became divine vindications of the Union’s goals, especially among black soldiers, whose willingness to fight hard gave white Union soldiers—most of whom still harbored racial prejudice—the experience of working for a common goal with blacks. A final blow to Confederate troops’ morale was a proposal in late 1864, endorsed by Lee himself, to permit slaves to serve in the army as a last-ditch effort to counter the Union pressure.

Convincing and eloquent.

Pub Date: April 4, 2007

ISBN: 0-307-26482-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2007

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.


A master storyteller’s character-driven account of a storied year in the American Revolution.

Against world systems, economic determinist and other external-cause schools of historical thought, McCullough (John Adams, 2001, etc.) has an old-fashioned fondness for the great- (and not-so-great) man tradition, which may not have much explanatory power but almost always yields better-written books. McCullough opens with a courteous nod to the customary villain in the story of American independence, George III, who turns out to be a pleasant and artistically inclined fellow who relied on poor advice; his Westmoreland, for instance, was a British general named Grant who boasted that with 5,000 soldiers he “could march from one end of the American continent to the other.” Other British officers agitated for peace, even as George wondered why Americans would not understand that to be a British subject was to be free by definition. Against these men stood arrayed a rebel army that was, at the least, unimpressive; McCullough observes that New Englanders, for instance, considered washing clothes to be women’s work and so wore filthy clothes until they rotted, with the result that Burgoyne and company had a point in thinking the Continentals a bunch of ragamuffins. The Americans’ military fortunes were none too good for much of 1776, the year of the Declaration; at the slowly unfolding battle for control over New York, George Washington was moved to despair at the sight of sometimes drunk soldiers running from the enemy and of their officers “who, instead of attending to their duty, had stood gazing like bumpkins” at the spectacle. For a man such as Washington, to be a laughingstock was the supreme insult, but the British were driven by other motives than to irritate the general—not least of them reluctance to give up a rich, fertile and beautiful land that, McCullough notes, was providing the world’s highest standard of living in 1776.

Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-2671-2

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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