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This Great Struggle: America's Civil War [Hardcover]

Steven E. Woodworth

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Book Description

16 April 2011
Referring to the war that was raging across parts of the American landscape, Abraham Lincoln told Congress in 1862, "We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope on earth." Lincoln recognized what was at stake in the American Civil War: not only freedom for 3.5 million slaves but also survival of self-government in the last place on earth where it could have the opportunity of developing freely. Noted historian Steven E. Woodworth tells the story of what many regard as the defining event in United States history. While covering all theaters of war, he emphasizes the importance of action in the region between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River in determining its outcome. Woodworth argues that the Civil War had a distinct purpose that was understood by most of its participants: it was primarily a conflict over the issue of slavery. The soldiers who filled the ranks of the armies on both sides knew what they were fighting for. The outcome of the war-after its beginnings at Fort Sumter to the Confederate surrender four years later-was the result of the actions and decisions made by those soldiers and millions of other Americans. Written in clear and compelling fashion, This Great Struggle is their story-and ours.

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Review

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 Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  13 reviews
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Is this book worth reading? YES! 25 May 2011
By James W. Durney - Published on Amazon.com
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.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Most Readable One Volume History of the Civil War 15 Jun 2011
By Old North State - Published on Amazon.com
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent accurate readable history. 19 Feb 2012
By Elizabeth - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I highly recommend this book for high school students and anyone else wishing to learn more about the Civil War.
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Primer on the Civil War 1 May 2011
By Jeffery Stewart - Published on Amazon.com
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:

Positive:
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.

Negative:
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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent overview of the Civil War 12 July 2013
By David W. Nicholas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Some years ago I read Steven E. Woodworth's book "Jefferson Davis and his Generals." The book was very intelligent, and narrowly focused on the strategic issues facing the Confederacy and its commanders, in this case in the "Western Theater" of the Civil War. Later he wrote a companion volume discussing the war in Virginia, and it was almost as good, if my memory is correct. I hadn't really thought about the author's overall views of the Civil War--one assumes, given that he teaches at Texas Christian University, that he's going to be some sort of neo-Confederate, especially since those first two books dealt with the Confederate Army and President. It didn't bother me much, because I've learned to discern between history and agenda history, the sort of stuff where the author starts with a conclusion and works their way back, selectively recounting that history which supports their point while ignoring or distorting everything else. When I saw this book was available, I was somewhat skeptical, as a result, because I knew this book would cover larger issues: what started the Civil War, whether the Union was guilty of war crimes while the South was innocent, and so forth. I eventually wound up with the book, and began it expecting to read the typical "South-Was-Right" Civil War history that is typical...and it turned out all of my expectations were completely wrong. It turns out this is (as far as I can tell) the clearest-eyed history of the Civil War that's been written, certainly on a level with James McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom," which is over twice as long.

The Civil War was about slavery. Southern apologists still try to argue that this isn't so (see the one star review of this book on this site) but in the last few years, with the advent of the internet and increasingly competent scholarship on the subject, such advocates have fewer and fewer arguments to make, and their opponents more and more. Many Civil War historians now cite South Carolina's Secession Convention, who the day after they voted to secede from the Union, wrote a manifesto explaining why. The whole thing boils down to them wanting to keep slavery legal in their state. Woodworth instead quotes Alexander Stephens, the Confederate Vice-President, who made a speech in 1861 asserting that racial superiority was the basis of the Confederate government, and insisting that slavery was better for all concerned, the slaves included. These documents were always there, but historians didn't use them, or didn't emphasize them as much, decades ago, largely because the South was adamant that whatever anyone said then or since, the war was about tariffs, and the slaves were at most an afterthought. They had all sorts of seemingly logical arguments ("If the war was about slavery, why did Lincoln wait until 1863 to free the slaves, and then only in the areas of the country he didn't control?") which upon further examination prove to be clever sophistry disguised as history, and are easily dismissed now that we've got enough distance from the events. Wisely, Woodworth understands this, and he's unflinching in his discussion of how the war started and who started it, and how it progressed from that beginning.

Woodworth also is very good with the events in the war itself. He's rightly admiring of Lee's tactical battlefield skills, but also very impressed with Grant's and Sherman's ability to maneuver off of the battlefield, so that they were in such a dominant position when the fighting started that victory was all but assured. He makes the point that the command structure, at the lower levels (regimental commanders, brigade commanders, etc.) crippled the Army of the Potomac's ability to fight battles for much of the war, with no one seemingly able to promote and cultivate such leaders, while the "Western" armies, especially the Army of the Tennessee, had no such difficulty, and was fearsomely skillful as a result.

I enjoyed this book a great deal, and thought the scholarship frankly unassailable. You will occasionally run into the stubborn neo-Confederate, but these days they have to ignore a *lot* of modern Civil War writing, well-sourced and strongly supported by primary documents, to still entertain their ideas. If you have anything like an open mind about the Civil War, this book is for you...if you live in the Dixie-fantasy land that has fewer citizens each year, read this at your own risk.
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