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In the Presence of Mine Enemies: The Civil War in the Heart of America, 1859-1864: The Civil War in the Heart of America, 1859-1863 (Valley of the Shadow Project) Paperback – 28 Oct 2004


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"A movingly human chronicle [of]...the transformation by civil war of two groups of Americans."

A movingly human chronicle [of]...the transformation by civil war of two groups of Americans. "

Gives readers a fuller picture than they'd obtain from a more conventional micro-history....engrossing. --Ben Schwarz"

Ayers unfolds this historical process with penetrating analysis and relevant quotations, emphasizing the anxiety, excitement, and misery...the war provoked. --Gilbert Taylor"

This original and gracefully written work, based on exhaustive primary research, should be required reading for Civil War enthusiass and scholars alike. --John Carver"

About the Author

Edward L. Ayers is President of the University of Richmond and Professor of History. His book, In the Presence of Mine Enemies, won the Bancroft Prize in 2004.


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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars 15 reviews
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ultimately, a disturbing book 16 Oct. 2010
By Charles L. Grotts - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Something kept bothering me as I was reading the letters, diaries and editorials of apparently good, decent people of both sides of the conflict, and ultimately what I realized was that whatever one's opinion was, at that time, depended almost entirely on where one lived. There were no Union people in Augusta Co. VA after Fort Sumter and Lincoln's call for volunteers, and almost no one in favor of letting the South go in Franklin Co. PA.

There's a riveting scene where the Confederates get into Pennsylvania and go sweeping through the wheat fields looking for hiding black people, rounding them up and sending them back into slavery though knowing many of them were free blacks -- what appalled me was that to the ordinary apparently decent people of the South like teachers and housewives, this was OK. It was like the banality of the average person doing evil in the Third Reich, obliviously. The scary thing is that no matter how decent or intelligent a person might seem to be, if he lived in the South in 1860, he was going to favor a system of inhuman cruelty, and not be able to see it. I don't see how a person can read a book like this and not regard his or her own political opinions without sobering humility. Am I unknowingly overlooking evil?

The other amazing thing about this book is that it shows how wrong almost everyone was about what the other side was intending. The South was amazed when the North considered firing on Fort Sumter an act of war. When Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers, the people in Virginia couldn't believe it. And when the North thought the rebellion would be suppressed with 90-day volunteers and that most people in the South were really opposed to secession, they were equally as wrong. And it seems that the more violently opinions were expressed, the more wrong they were. Another sobering lesson when we regard today's partisanship.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars outstanding, emotionally-charged history. 27 Oct. 2005
By Lord Chimp - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The War between States remains one of the most important events in American history, not so much because of its impact on slavery (it substituted the exploitative feudal relationship of antebellum slavery with democratic hegemony), but because of the way it radically changed the conception of the United States. Rather than an agreement among states, Union was seen -- as a result of the war -- to be a compulsory membership organization under a strong national government. This event has been treated by many interpretations which I would regard as irrelevant or not worth quite the weight they are given. People and ideas in these times are regarded as abstractions and contorted to fit all kinds of bizarre theories. Ayers' strength is the intimacy of his ground-level account of the preceding year and outbreak of the war. By focusing on the common American, he tells a story of the conflict that is all the more vivid and convincing. His book centers around two counties, one in Pennsylvania, one in Virginia -- they are geographically close, they are culturally close -- the difference between them is slavery. Ayers book follows their lives and thoughts, taken from reams of letters. Reconstructed from myriad first-hand accounts of events, it reads much like a good story. Because of the nature of Ayers approach to his subject, his thesis is difficult to discern. But it is there to be found if one combines attentive reading with an understanding of the impact of war on people's lives. Ayers indicates, against politically correct orthodoxy, that the War between States was not inevitable, but the result of any emotions and ideologies swept up in the sectional conflict. Partly hidden is the implication that Republican ideas concerning Unionism and secession was the contingent factor in turning what might have been peaceful secession into nation-breaking bloodshed. John Imboden, an important Virginia slaveholder in Ayers' story, is illustrative. Imboden, like many others in the border south, opposed secession and would have preferred to stay in the Union. Yet when Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to crush the "rebels" in South Carolina, Imboden supported Virginia's secession because although he disagreed with the South's secession, he recognized their right to do it, and therefore opposed Lincoln's aggression. Professor Ayers is the chief of the Valley of the Shadow project, an excellent online resource for scholars on this subject. Also recommended is James McPherson's _What They Fought For_. McPherson studies thousands of letters written by soldiers on both sides of the conflict. It makes a good companion to this volume.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Civil War on a personal level 5 Oct. 2007
By Bomojaz - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Most Civil War books concentrate on the battles fought; Edward L. Ayers, in this superb account of the War in the eastern theatre from the election of 1860 to Gettysburg, focuses on the consequences of not only the major battles but also the politics and motivations of the citizens of two near-border counties - Augusta in Virginia and Franklin in Pennsylvania. Using contemporary newspapers and diaries, Ayers reveals how the border inhabitants from these two counties interpreted Lincoln's election, thought about slavery as the major issue of the war, supplied recruits, and responded to the results of battles and strategies waged by their leaders. It's interesting to see how many Augustans were Unionists at the time of the election, even after Lincoln was nominated, but had turned "Yankee haters" by the end of 1862 as they saw their property destroyed by Federal soldiers as the war raged on Virginia soil.

Ayers writes extremely well and in the early pages is able to create a great deal of suspense: the book is a real page-turner. A couple of places he leaves the reader wondering, though: after spending over 30 pages on the 1860 election and revealing certain poll returns, he never says how many Augustans voted for Lincoln (any?) or how many Franklinites voted for Bell or Breckinridge, the two Southern candidates. Also he tells the story of a free black man named Frank Jones who is attacked by Union soldiers in Chambersburg and murdered in broad daylight, but not what, if anything, happened to the guilty soldiers afterwards.

The book ends with the Battle of Gettysburg about to begin, and one wonders whether Ayers plans a second volume taking the reader to the end of the war. How Augustans and Franklinites responded to Sheridan's destructive 1864 Valley campaign and the burning of Chambersburg (also in 1864) would be of major interest. One hopes he does. In the meantime, this is an excellent account of how the earlier stages of the Civil War personally affected inhabitants of two border counties, North and South.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Good Social History 8 May 2011
By bk69k - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In the summer of 1859 the Great Valley that included parts of Pennsylvania and Virginia was filled with great prosperity. Two counties in the great valley, Franklin in PA and Augusta in VA, had bright futures, crops were growing well, people could make a living with a little hard work and times were good. Both counties in the Great Valley were similar in landscape and agriculture. Augusta, unlike the Deep South, grew corn, wheat and grains as the major crops, but like all southern areas held slaves. Franklin County was similar in most aspects except it was more populated and of course held no slaves. It seemed like the sky was the limit for the potential of the young nation as a whole, however, their lingered strong feelings over sectional debates dealing with slavery and the interpretation of the constitution between the North and the South. The citizens that lived in these counties along the Mason-Dixon Line thought that conflict had to be resolved in order to maintain a strong Union. People along the border had a strong feeling that life would be better with compromise and Union than the brutal consequences of life without.

"In the presence of Mine Enemies: The Civil War in the Heart of America, 1859-1863 by Edward L. Ayers is a social history of life in these two counties in the border states. The centers for population and transportation in each county were Chambersburg in PA and Staunton in VA, much of the story takes place in these towns. Ayers uses accounts in the local papers as well as letters and diaries of the citizens of the Franklin and Augusta to tell the story of what life would be like there. The story starts out with the 4th of July celebrations in each county and ends just prior to the Battle of Gettysburg. The book is broken down into four sections following the twenty-third psalm along the lines that both sides held strong religious beliefs.

Partisan politics played an important role in the lives of individuals in the counties of the sectional border. In the late summer of 1859 the famous abolitionist Frederick Douglas came to Chambersburg to speak. After the speaking engagement he actually met with another famous abolitionist John Brown at a quarry outside of town. John Brown tried to talk Douglas into joining his group to raid Harpers Ferry. Douglas declined and advised Brown to do otherwise. After John Browns raid the fallout drew heavy criticism from both Augusta and Franklin. The Democratic papers in Franklin along with the papers in the south blamed the abolitionist Republicans for creating people such as John Brown. This political turmoil continued to get worse until it all broke loose with the election of Lincoln. Alexander McClure a resident of Chambersburg was elected to the Senate at the same time and he was a major factor in helping Lincoln carry Pennsylvania. Interesting enough Alexander McClure is the same guy who began publishing the Juniata Sentinel in my hometown, I get that paper each week! McClure would become a senator and an important part of the Lincoln administration.

Soon after the election of Lincoln the people of Augusta sent a few representatives to the state convention, former whigs such as George Baylor and John Baldwin gave great speeches trying to save the Union. The convention voted not to secede and you could sense a sigh of relief in the people of Augusta. This relief was short lived however with the attack on Fort Sumter and subsequent calling up of troops by Lincoln. The change in the people of Virginia was drastic and swift the state virtually seceded overnight. The people of Augusta felt lied to and betrayed by Lincoln and their support for the Confederacy was very strong. The people of Augusta developed a "war fever" as they began recruiting troops for an invasion by Lincoln's army. Large numbers of men joined the Confederate army eager to fight and the women began sewing uniforms for the soldiers. John Imboden joined the army and started a large Guerilla unit under the direction of Stonewall Jackson. Will Baylor and Jed Hotchkiss also from Augusta signed up as well. Will Baylor went on to become a captain in the infamous "Stonewall Brigade", he was killed at the 2nd Bull Run and Jed became a map maker for General Jackson and General Lee helping them secure many victories early in the war.

During this same time the people of Franklin could not believe their neighbors to the south seceded and the war fever broke out there as well. Soldiers began massing with 5 regiments in Camp Slifer to the south of Chambersburg. It cannot be underestimated how eager both sides were to fight and how they underestimated the strength of the other side. People in Franklin joked about how short the war would be, they that one or two battles would be all that was necessary to put down the rebellion and restore order to the Country.

The start of the war brought the Battle of Bull Run, the resulting Confederate victory gave the citizens of Augusta great encouragement and the people of Franklin great despair. The democratic papers of Franklin County criticized Lincoln's army and said they were fighting for the wrong reasons; the Republicans in turn blamed the Democrats for Treason. The lull in the major action in late 1861 gave both sides time to think about what this war might become, but both sides believed that God was on their side.

With most of their men in the army and many Union troops massing in the Northern Shenandoah Valley and North of Richmond the people of Augusta began feeling insecure. Things were looking very bleak in the winter of 1861, while the men from Augusta were only 30 miles from home they were camped out in the Alleghany Mountains. The letters that the men wrote home told of the poor conditions and how they wished to be home. In these letters men described sickness and anticipation of a fight, the soldiers resented those men still at home and thought them cowards for not joining the army. At the same time these soldiers families were struggling to make ends meet at home. In the spring of 1862 the men in the mountains wrote that they were moving toward Richmond and families began to worry. To their surprise however Jackson marched the troops onto trains and shipped them all to Staunton. The people were very excited but noted that the troops looked very ragged and beat. Although they rested a short time in Staunton General Jackson's troops began marching at a swift pace up the Shenandoah Valley. Jackson put together a large string to victories in the valley ending at Winchester. During the same stretch of time Lee booted McCllelan away from Richmond in the 7 days Battle. Meanwhile back in Staunton the hospitals and graveyards were filling up with dead Confederate soldiers, some of them family members of the people in Augusta.

Lee and Jackson's forces joined at 2nd Bull Run and gave the South another victory. The forces then moved on to the bloodiest battle in the war, Antietam, a Union victory and with it came the Emancipation Proclamation by Lincoln. The people of Franklin County were thrilled to have a victory but wondered how close the Confederates had come to an invasion of Pennsylvania. Partisan politics once again took center stage, while the democratic papers of Franklin showed excitement at the Union victory at Antietam; they displayed disgust at the proclamation by Lincoln. The upcoming local and state elections in the North would prove that the Democrats were well liked in Pennsylvania with many positions taken by them. It was a different situation in the South, they no longer had a party system, it was everyone together against the North. The people of Augusta saw the Emancipation Proclamation as a Tyrannical move by Lincoln that affirmed their fears of a "race" war. Before the elections of 1862, J.E.B. Stuart made a raid into Chambersburg with his 1200 cavalry. This first Confederate raid into Chambersburg accomplished little except to show how slow McClellan's army was and gain lots of newspaper coverage. The people of Chambersburg could do nothing as no military men were stationed in the town at the time.

Another important victory for the Confederates came in the winter of 1862 at Fredricksburg. This demoralized the Union soldiers but more importantly it demoralized the people at home. The copperheads became more involved in politics in Franklin County, and with democratic victory in the elections it looked as if the North might divide itself. The South would have a great chance for a stop to the war and peace if the Republican party lost control. However, one Augusta resident, Joseph Waddell, wrote in his diary that "while there is growing discontent in the North, it will only take a major victory, especially the capture of Vicksburg to unite the North again." And while the South was happy with the victories and growing Northern discontent the truth was that the economy of the North was much better off than those of the South. The people living in Chambersburg had a bountiful harvest in the fall of 1862; those farms of Northern Virginia had been decimated by both armies living off the land. With all of this going on the spring the Army of Northern Virginia was going hungry and living in poor conditions. One soldier wrote that "in the morning we had beef steak, for lunch roast beef, and for dinner what was left from breakfast." With these dire conditions it is easy to see why Lee would want to live off the land and push on into Pennsylvania where the harvests were bountiful. This book ends with the Confederates raiding Chambersburg for a second time. While the people noted the chivalry of the soldiers, they were appalled at their treatment of the black population. While in Chambersburg the orders came through that major fighting was happening at Gettysburg and all forces should move there.

This book by Ayers is a look into what life may have been like living in Civil War times. The emotional rollercoaster must have been difficult for many people to handle when times were so good years prior to the conflict. This book is very well researched with material from both counties however, there is much more material here for the southern side. The southern material uses newspapers but also has a lot of letters and diaries of the citizens of Augusta. The northern material consists of mainly partisan newspapers, but shows the political turmoil of the North rather well. These papers were even more partisan than Fox News or CNN, and they did not even try to hide that fact. Both instances give a great feeling of what the citizens were dealing with on both sides. I would read this book again and will read the next book in the series when it comes out. The next book should pick up at Gettysburg and continue until reconstruction. I would recommend this book to anyone taking a Civil War class specifically those students in the Franklin or Augusta County area.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 10 starts! One of the most unique books on the civil war yet 13 Dec. 2006
By Lehigh History Student - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
If you are looking for a truly unique perspective on the civil war this is it. This takes a look at two counties one in the north and one in the south and gives a perspective of how the civil war took shape. It chronicles the start of the war and gives an excellent sense of what happened in the north and the south. It is really the perspective on the south that gives the best example and although this is part one of two (two is unpublished at this time) there is no other history like it. If you are a true civil war buff this is a must read. There is very little literature on the southern perspective of the war and Ed Ayers is looking to fill that gap.
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