THE THIN LIGHT OF FREEDOM by Edward L. Ayers
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THE THIN LIGHT OF FREEDOM

The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America
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KIRKUS REVIEW

The renowned historian of the Civil War and Reconstruction continues the story begun in his Bancroft Prize–winning In the Presence of Mine Enemies (2003), recounting those events as they played out beyond the Blue Ridge.

The Civil War was fought on many fronts but perhaps none more malleable than that in the Great Valley, which runs from Pennsylvania through Maryland and into Virginia. There, writes University of Richmond president emeritus Ayers (What Caused the Civil War?: Reflections on the South and Southern History, 2005, etc.) in this luminous account, Union armies threatened the Confederacy with near impunity, while Rebel forces attempted to do the same, as at Monocacy, Chambersburg, and other northward forays. As the author chronicles, these movements were calculated as much to prolong the war in the hope of costing Abraham Lincoln the 1864 election as to achieve any lasting military victory, reason enough for Robert E. Lee to raid into Pennsylvania, thus “making Northerners feel what it meant to live in an occupied land.” Along the Pennsylvania border of this heartland, communities of emancipated African-Americans, who contributed many troops to the Union cause, suffered raids that returned prisoners to slavery—even as, late in the war, Lee endorsed using black troops in the Confederate ranks. More than any other place, Ayers argues persuasively, the valley had special reason to fear the resumption of campaigning in the spring of 1864, when it “could come under assault from north and south, east and west, inside and outside.” It was no less contested during Reconstruction, when voting laws were engineered to displace former rebels and impose rule by so-called carpetbaggers, an early instance of gerrymandering. As elsewhere in the South, the narrative on the war and its causes diverged from that favored in the North, building a lasting division even as the Supreme Court tolerated and even encouraged “complete legal segregation, disenfranchisement, and subjugation of black Southerners.”

An exemplary contribution to the history of the Civil War and its aftermath.

Pub Date: Oct. 24th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-393-29263-3
Page count: 640pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2017




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