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This Great Struggle: America's Civil War Hardcover – 16 Apr 2011

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Well written and engaging, This Great Struggle is a superb introduction to the event that forged modern America. -- Mark Grimsley, author of The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy Toward Southern Civilians, 1861-1865 Steve Woodworth, perhaps the most prolific and versatile Civil War historian working today, has taken on a big subject-the entire war. His This Great Struggle is a smoothly written, highly readable and insightful retelling of the full story, full of twists of cogent insight that make it a different, much welcomed synthesis of that brutal passage in our history. Hitting all the necessary stops, he has crafted a masterful tapestry. -- John C. Waugh Woodworth, author of, most recently, Manifest Destinies (2010), recounts the entire Civil War surveystyle, from causes to aftermath. Necessarily presenting matters at a high level of generality, he introduces major events and historians' debates to his intended audience of readers newly acquainting themselves with the conflict, who may be surprised that positing slavery as the fundamental cause of the war is occasionally disputed by scholars who magnify the tariff or states' rights. Militarily, the Battle of Gettysburg lodges in the popular mind as the war's most decisive. Woodworth dispatches such misconceptions en route to summarizing the major campaigns of the war (those in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Georgia were the critical ones), as well as maintaining front and center the war's ever-present political contexts in the North and the South. Still, it is the battlefield drama and the qualities of commanders that fascinate buffs, whose expectations Woodworth cultivates with his precise delineation of military action and lapidary portraits of generals directing it well or badly in this fine gateway to the vast Civil War bibliography. Booklist Woodworth, of Texas Christian University, enhances his position in the front rank of Civil War scholars. He makes a strong case for three controversial points. First, the Civil War was about slavery. The fundamental dispute over the 'peculiar institution' had continually defied peaceful resolution; state's rights, tariffs, all the other wedge issues were structured by slavery; and from the war's beginning both sides knew why they were really fighting. Second, Woodworth establishes the war's crucial sector as between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. The eastern theater rapidly stalemated; only in the west was there space to sustain the large-scale maneuver war that gave full scope to the Union's industrial superiority and to developed generals like Grant and Sherman. Third, Woodworth demonstrates that while the Union's conventional victory was 'clear and overwhelming,' Reconstruction was an unconventional phase of the war-'not quite open war but not quite peace'-in which the advantage rested with the vanquished South. A desperate commitment to sustaining white supremacy outlasted the North's will to complete the transformation of American society. This is a well-crafted, comprehensively researched overview of America's central conflict. Publishers Weekly [Woodworth] shows clearly how the war in the West-Grant's and Sherman's war-was the decisive factor, rather than the stalemate in the East. He also demonstrates how the South's unrelenting campaign to maintain white supremacy-the felicitous phrase is 'not quite open war, but not quite peace'-outlasted a tired North's determination to fully end the realities of slavery. Star Ledger Thorough. Cedar Rapids Gazette Woodworth (history, Texas Christian Univ.; Manifest Destinies) displays his vast knowledge of Civil War military history in this sprightly march through the run-up to the war, the fighting, and the war's immediate aftermath. He provides an unabashedly guns-and-battle account, emphasizing strategy and individual actions... His descriptions of the generals and their tactics are sure-handed, and his command of action complete and compelling. In few words but telling detail, he makes astute observations about the character and conduct of military men and about the dynamics and direction of military thought... His book will provide an excellent account for anyone wanting to know how the war was fought. Recommended for Civil War buffs and as a course text. Library Journal 20110301 Woodworth, (Texas Christian Univ.) has authored several respected books on Civil War subjects (e.g., Davis and Lee at War, CH, May'96, 33-5327; Nothing but Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, CH, Jun'06, 43-6118). This broader work covering the entire war--based on solid research, thoughtful analysis, and readable prose--clearly describes military tactics. Woodworth understands the need to address its complexities, but in some places, a map would have helped. Frequently, his interpretations enliven his account. For example, he argues the importance of the Union victory at Fort Henry in early 1862 because "the Confederacy never really recovered from it," and insists that Gettysburg in 1863 was not "the great decisive battle and turning point of the war." The author provides useful details about leaders--he admires Grant's ability--and about armies. He makes thoughtful comparisons, including Grant at Vicksburg with General Joseph Hooker at Chancellorsville, or the reasons for Northern and Southern optimism in the spring of 1864. As a professor, Woodworth has learned the need to explain such vague terms as "political generals." This solid history is a useful guide for general readers and experts studying the Civil War during its 150th anniversary. Recommended. All levels/libraries. CHOICE Steven Woodworth offers a distillation of current scholarship in readable form which can easily be grasped by readers coming to the subject for the first time. In exploring the nature of the war and its overall significance, he at once dismisses the notion that the war was a 'futile' waste, an accusation that echoes the language of British critics of the Western Front 1914-18 and reflects vastly different perspectives from the pre-Vietnam triumphalism of 1961-65. The Civil War 'was worth fighting', Woodworth declares forthrightly. More than that, it is 'worth studying because of what was at stake ... because of how the war changed America' and because 'of the height to which that generation of Americans rose and its challenge to future generations to be worthy of a free government' (p. xiii). This passage reveals the influence of the popular notion which holds that specific generations evince a particular moral character. Reviews in History A compact yet comprehensive text that will satisfy both the military history enthusiast and the social historian. [Woodworth's] deft handling of the campaigns and eminently readable prose will appeal to any senior level history student. -- Henry O. Robertson, Louisiana College Woodworth's volume focuses closely on battles and leaders...written with verve and...a masterful command of the vast literature on the subject. Claremont Review of Books

About the Author

Steven E. Woodworth is professor of history at Texas Christian University and author, co-author, or editor of twenty-seven books. He is a two-time winner of the Fletcher Pratt Award of the New York Civil War Round Table, a two-time finalist for the Peter Seaborg Award of the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War, and a winner of the Grady McWhiney Award of the Dallas Civil War Round Table for lifetime contribution to the study of Civil War history. His most recent book is Manifest Destinies: America's Westward Expansion and the Road to the Civil War.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 14 reviews
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Is this book worth reading? YES! 25 May 2011
By James W. Durney - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Write a one-volume history of the American Civil War. Be sure to consider the politics on both sides, the home fronts, personalities and objectives. Do not forget to include Great Britain, the blockade-runners and the rams. We want you to include chapters on Reconstruction and on causes too. This must be a military history that covers all the major campaigns and make sure to mention the more important secondary campaigns. Oh, by the way, the text must be under 400 pages, we need about 40 pages for the index, sources and notes. Most authors would have tried to nicely say, "This is impossible!" so as to not upset the publisher. The excellent social history "Battle Cry of Freedom" is 952 pages while the best military history "The Longest Night" is 992 pages. This book cannot offer the depth of information found in those book BUT it provides an intelligent overview of the subjects.
Woodworth manages an inclusive narrative that is well paced and constantly moving. We effortlessly move from theater to theater, from war to politics to social issues and back to war throughout the book. The organization is so logical that each move seems natural and necessary. We receive enough information to attain a basic understanding of a subject and place it in the overall context of the war. This is a history of American Civil War from the 1850s through the 1870s. The design is to be inclusive but not detailed. A detailed book like this would run thousands of pages and require a body builder to carry it.
Woodworth stays with the modern interpretation of the Civil War history placing slavery as the central theme. He is honest enough to fairly note different interpretations and not be dismissive of them. This is a stalemate in the East, victory on the Mississippi and cautious advance in Tennessee military history. The treatment of the personalities is fair and no one walks on water. This is not a story of heroes and villains but of people at war. Leaders make mistakes and fail throughout the book. The Trans-Mississippi is important in 1861 and early 1862. After the Battle of Pea Ridge, very little happens that changes the course of the war. The book reflects this by looking at what is important and what is not.
Is this book worth reading? YES! For those new to the Civil War, this is the best general history of its' size. For the experienced reader, this book is an enjoyable review. It puts the vital, very important, important and not important events into place and keeps this perspective. One of the best things is Woodworth's ability as a writer. His prose is clean, direct and very intelligent. He can lecture while seeming to talk and make anyone enjoy history.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Most Readable One Volume History of the Civil War 15 Jun 2011
By Old North State - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Steven Woodworth has written what is, in my view, the most readable one volume history of the Civil War available. Sure there is a small error here and there, but overall it is remarkably accurate and a very enjoyable read. I've read a few hundred Civil War books of one sort or another during my lifetime and I rank this among the best, if not the best, as an introduction to the subject. It will be my pick as a gift for my friends and relatives whom I hope to interest in the Civil War.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Excellent accurate readable history. 19 Feb 2012
By Elizabeth - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I highly recommend this book for high school students and anyone else wishing to learn more about the Civil War.
14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Good Primer on the Civil War 1 May 2011
By Jeffery Stewart - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book is a very solid introduction to the military events of the American Civil War. For the most part social and economic aspects of this conflict are not covered. Here are my specifics:

1. The narrative is easy to follow. The story is told in such a way that I was follow events without confusing them.
2. The author seemed to give fair treatment to both sides. Each side has its fair share of good and bad generals.
3. For an introductary work the maps are adaquate, but are not overly detailed. They do cover all of the major campaigns.

1. The military events in the Trans-Missippi get very little attention.
2. The author makes a couple of remarks that I think should not have been included in a work on the Civil War because they are not appropiate for a work on that conflict. They were remarks regarding abortion and taxes.
3. There were a few minor factual errors:
-Page 55. States that the Federals won at the battle of Carthage on July 5, 1861. The Rebels were the victors.
-Page 201. Map states the battle of Big Black River was May 16. The text says May 17.
-Page 230. One sentence seems to state that Napoleon III was attempting to establish a puppet regime in Texas. It was Mexico.
-Pages 344 & 345. Twice cites Sherman as the intended general when Sheridan is meant.
-Page 370. States the KKK was formed in 1865. It was 1866.

In spite of these minor errors, this was a very enjoyable read and I would recommended this work.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Highlights the Important Aspects of the war very well 12 July 2013
By gloine36 - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It is inevitable that all one volume efforts about the American Civil War get compared to James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom and This Great Struggle is no exception. Fortunately, it survives the comparison and emerges as one of the better slimmed down works covering that period. This makes This Great Struggle a good book to use in college classrooms covering the Civil War. There is plenty of content to give the reader a good feel for what did happen, while its smaller page count allows for additional reading to be assigned covering specific aspects of the war. Woodworth, Professor of History at Texas Christian University and adjunct at American Military University has written a very nice and compact book on the Civil War.
He opens the book with a short chapter on the cause of the war, slavery, and moves swiftly into the conflict. As such, another book on the cause of the war would be beneficial as it is this area that generates the largest amount of discussion and is worthy of a thorough exploration on its own. Sources are detailed in the back of the book which is a great aid for students although I personally would have preferred footnotes. Unfortunately, that is a decision made by the publishers, not the author. What is really good about this book is the skill that went into making it an easy read when compared to books labeled as academic. This by no means diminishes the work that went into the book. I am referring to Woodworth's writing style which makes for good word flow. You do not need to be a college student to read this book. Students of the Civil War of all levels will find it very readable and worth their time.
Woodworth expands on several areas of interest throughout the book. He doesn't dwell on what ifs or might have beens. He keeps the focus on the topic at hand and moves forward at a brisk pace. Maps and illustrations are sprinkled throughout the pages which is quite refreshing. Shortcomings of this book are that Woodworth does not spend much time outside of the main theatres of war. The guerrilla war in Missouri and Kansas is acknowledged, but not explored. Actions out west of the Mississippi or in any of what are often termed sideshows are not brought up. Naval actions are briefly mentioned, but again they do not receive much more than a brief acknowledgement of their occurrence except where it applies to the main theatres. The growth of Grant and Sherman as commanders in the western theatre is a recurrent theme. This ties in with the growing trend of historical research which is showing that Grant was the better overall strategist and commander of an army than Robert E. Lee has often been considered.
As much material as there is on the Civil War, any one volume book covering it will leave out something no matter how well researched or explored the conflict is by the historian. Woodworth manages to touch upon the important points of the war and spends more time exploring the most important aspects while briefly discussing the minor ones. As reviewers have noted with McPherson's work, even if two volumes were made something would be left out. Woodworth's effort is outstanding just from the historical editing point alone in this regard in knowing what to cover and in what depth. That in itself is the mark of a professional historian and experienced Civil War historian at that which Woodworth certainly is. There are bound to be those disappointed by this book, but when they understand the purpose of it, then the book gets a better reception.
As a former student of Woodworth's at American Military University, I can say that he knows the subject very well. I had expected to be assigned Battle Cry of Freedom which I had already bought and read prior to the course, but was surprised when this book was assigned instead. As I read through it I was impressed with how original it is while still basically covering what McPherson did. As such, I am quite happy to recommend the book to future students because it really does cover the essentials of the conflict which gives them time to use additional resources to explore the causes of the war, reconstruction, specific military or political aspects of the war, or anything else they feel the need for additional research on. I think they will be quite happy to have a compact history of the Civil War with plenty of resources for further exploration while understanding what needs additional coverage.
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