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The Union War Hardcover – 19 Apr 2011

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (19 April 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674045629
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674045620
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 16.5 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,922,716 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Brimming with insights, eloquent in argument, and filled with new evidence from the men who fought for the Union, this revisionist history will cause readers to rethink many of the now-standard Civil War interpretations. An essential work. -- Randall M. Miller Library Journal (starred review) 20110301 This exceptionally fine book is in effect a companion piece to its author's The Confederate War, published in 1997... Now, in The Union War, Gallagher is back to take issue with what has become the new conventional wisdom, that the North fought the war in order to achieve the emancipation of the slaves. While welcoming the post-civil-rights-era emphasis on "slavery, emancipation, and the actions of black people, unfairly marginalized for decades in writings about the conflict," Gallagher makes a very strong case--in my view a virtually irrefutable one--that the overriding motive in the North was preservation of the Union...Gallagher, who holds a distinguished professorship in history at the University of Virginia, is far more interested in pursuing historical truth than in massaging whatever praiseworthy sentiments he may harbor on race, gender, class or anything else. He knows that for the historian the central obligation is to understand and interpret the past, not to judge it. This is what he has done, to exemplary effect, in The Union War. I suspect that one of his motives in writing it may have been to remind us of what a precious thing our Union is, a Union that we have come to take for granted. Fighting for its preservation was a noble thing, in and of itself. -- Jonathan Yardley Washington Post 20110415 Gary Gallagher, a Civil War historian at the University of Virginia, aims to recover an antebellum understanding of the Civil War. In his new book, The Union War, Gallagher argues that Northerners actually went to war to support the abstract idea of "Union"--a political idea, he writes, whose "meaning has been almost completely effaced" from our modern political consciousness. -- Josh Rothman Boston Globe blog 20110419 In The Union War, Gallagher offers not so much a history of wartime patriotism as a series of meditations on the meaning of the Union to Northerners, the role of slavery in the conflict and how historians have interpreted (and in his view misinterpreted) these matters...At a time when only half the population bothers to vote and many Americans hold their elected representatives in contempt, Gallagher offers a salutary reminder of the power of democratic ideals not simply to Northerners in the era of the Civil War, but also to people in other nations, who celebrated the Union victory as a harbinger of greater rights for themselves. Imaginatively invoking sources neglected by other scholars--wartime songs, patriotic images on mailing envelopes and in illustrated publications, and regimental histories written during and immediately after the conflict--Gallagher gives a dramatic portrait of the power of wartime nationalism. -- Eric Foner New York Times Book Review 20110501 While mindful of slavery's complex and deleterious role in fomenting disunion, Gallagher emphasizes the centrality of Northerners' devotion to the idea of the Union of their grandparents and their parents...Historians who stress emancipation over Union, Gallagher insists, miss the realities of antebellum inequalities based on class, gender and race...Gallagher's great contribution lies in contextualizing and underscoring the broad meaning of the Union, and later emancipation, to Northerners. -- John David Smith News & Observer 20110522 Gallagher, one of the nation's preeminent Civil War scholars and a professor at the University of Virginia, deals in his latest book of the question of why did the North fight? His answer is in the volume's first sentence: The loyal American citizenry fought a war for Union that also killed slavery. This fast-paced review of the controversies that civil war historians have been arguing about is opinionated, well-informed, provocative and just the thing any American history buff needs to read this spring as our country gears up for the sesquicentennial of the conflict that made the United States begin to live up to the Declaration's words that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." -- Karl Rove Rove.com 20110519 Gallagher recaptures the meaning of Union to the generation that fought for it. He rescues the "Cause" for which they fought from modern historians who maintain that the abolition of slavery was the only achievement of the Civil War that justified all that death and destruction...He make his point with force and clarity. -- James M. McPherson New York Review of Books 20110714 Bold, fast-paced, and provocative...The Union War offers a searing critique of what Gallagher terms anachronistic scholarship that privileges emancipation and the agency of African-Americans during the war over loyal citizens' commitment to the concept of a perpetual Union. Accusing historians of allowing "modern sensibilities" to skew their "view of how participants of a distant era understood the war," Gallagher finds, not surprisingly, that their scholarship exposes "the many ways in which wartime Northerners fell short of later standards of acceptable thought and behavior."...Gallagher reminds us of the centrality and importance of the Union to the war that forever ended serious threats of secession and racial slavery. -- John David Smith Chronicle of Higher Education 20110619 [An] important work. -- Lawton Posey Charleston Gazette 20110618 This slender volume offers a convincing demonstration of what motivated most white U.S. citizens during the Civil War. Theirs was not a quest to end slavery, although emancipation became a vital tactic in the epic conflict...Gallagher shows that participants fought to save a political arrangement they considered sacred, and begrudgingly supported emancipation as the best way to bring the secessionist serpent to heel. -- E. R. Crowther Choice 20111201

About the Author

Gary W. Gallagher is John L. Nau III Professor of History at the University of Virginia.

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By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWER on 19 Jun. 2011
Format: Hardcover
not why it started. Gary Gallagher, professor at the University of Virginia and Penn State and noted Civil War historian, has written a short book on "why" the northern soldiers fought their southern brethren. Conventional wisdom aside - that it was the question of slavery and the righteousness of the practice - Gallagher says the real reason was the idea of "union".

Many of the soldiers and lawmakers had fathers and grandfathers who had fought the British for Independence and the sense of "Union" of the "United States of America". To these men, "preserving" the Union was as important as their forefathers having attained it in the first place. Look at the word "union" and the phrase "the Union". Both mean virtually the same thing but only one applies to a specific entity. And these men were willing to die for that "union".

But what about slavery and the idea of the North fighting to emancipate the slaves? The South may have begun with war with the yell of "states' rights" but the idea of fighting to keep those rights - including the practice of slavery - was a southern ideal. Gallagher states that while slavery was not well regarded in the north, he didn't feel it was the reason the north fought. He quotes Abraham Lincoln - on page 50 - of the three practicalities he had in freeing the slaves in the context of fighting and winning the war.

Gallagher also writes about those thousands of immigrants who joined native-born Americans in the northern armies. What were they fighting for? Again, "union" and the idea of a country that was seen in Europe as a "bright spot" among nations. Many countries - France, the German States, the Austria/Hungary - had weathered uprisings in 1848 by citizens protesting traditional rule.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars 24 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thanks for helping solve a family mystery 26 Oct. 2015
By Dave Dyer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read this book to help me understand why my GG grandfather, Eseck H. Dyer, fought in the Civil war. When Eseck enlisted in August, 1862 he was 46 years old, had a farm near Whitehouse, Ohio, and was raising 4 kids. That is not the profile of most volunteer soldiers. Did the cause of freeing the slaves really mean that much to him? He had probably never seen a slave in person. Gallagher's book helped me understand that Eseck was probably more interested in preserving the union and honoring his ancestors who helped create it than in freeing the slaves.

Gallagher makes good use of newspaper and diary sources to understand the motivations of the volunteer soldiers. Also, very convincingly, he reviews some of the many town square monuments erected all over the north to honor the soldiers; they all talk about saving the Union, not freeing the slaves. Freeing the slaves was a military tactic, not a political goal. We all know, I hope, that the Emancipation Proclamation did not free all the slaves, only the ones in the south. Four slave states were fighting for the Union and they got to keep their slaves. In true Orwellian fashion, history has been re-written to make freeing the slaves the centerpiece in the public mind. Not that there is anything wrong with freeing the slaves, but I prefer my history to be accurate.

Eseck survived the war although he was left for dead on the battlefield at Fort Wagner where he served, incidentally, with a unit composed mostly of black Union soldiers. He was deaf and disabled for the rest of his life, but he did manage to father yet another kid on his return. Now I think I understand why he went. His grandfather, Stephen Dyer, had fought in the American Revolution and Eseck must have been motivated to preserve the Union that came from that war. Also, Eseck must have known his grandfather because Stephen lived to be 95 and Eseck would have been 30 when he died.

So, I thank Mr. Gallagher for helping with a family mystery.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The title is the answer 9 Dec. 2011
By Steven Peterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
One key question that animates much thinking about the Civil War: Why did the soldiers, facing miserable conditions and fighting horrific battles leaving so many dead and disfigured, fight? Why did they persevere? In this book the question examine answers from the union side. The title "Union War" provides the answer.

Gary Gallagher is an eminent historian of the Civil War. Thus, his analysis is worth thinking about. In some senses, the book begins with a straw man attack, as he notes questions about the popular view that the Civil War was about Union troops fighting for the end of slavery and emancipation. Frankly, that is hardly a majority view. But it does serve to juxtapose Gallagher's answers against that view. He contends that the northern troops fought for union.

Gallagher uses many sources to make his case, including the artifacts of the soldiers themselves, such as letters and diaries. Three questions are at the fore in this work (Page 5): "What did the war for Union mean in mid-nineteenth century America? How and why did emancipation come to be part of the war for Union? How did armies of citizen-soldiers figure in conceptions of the war, the process of emancipation, and the shaping of national sentiment?"

The book begins with the "Grand Review" of 1865, when the armies of East and West marched down the streets of Washington D. C. Then, the book goes back in time to explore answers to the questions noted above.

Gallagher sensitively uses the information at his disposal to address these. In the end, a satisfactory volume.
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why they fought... 19 Jun. 2011
By Jill Meyer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
not why it started. Gary Gallagher, professor at the University of Virginia and Penn State and noted Civil War historian, has written a short book on "why" the northern soldiers fought their southern brethren. Conventional wisdom aside - that it was the question of slavery and the righteousness of the practice - Gallagher says the real reason was the idea of "union".

Many of the soldiers and lawmakers had fathers and grandfathers who had fought the British for Independence and the sense of "Union" of the "United States of America". To these men, "preserving" the Union was as important as their forefathers having attained it in the first place. Look at the word "union" and the phrase "the Union". Both mean virtually the same thing but only one applies to a specific entity. And these men were willing to die for that "union".

But what about slavery and the idea of the North fighting to emancipate the slaves? The South may have begun with war with the yell of "states' rights" but the idea of fighting to keep those rights - including the practice of slavery - was a southern ideal. Gallagher states that while slavery was not well regarded in the north, he didn't feel it was the reason the north fought. He quotes Abraham Lincoln - on page 50 - of the three practicalities he had in freeing the slaves in the context of fighting and winning the war.

Gallagher also writes about those thousands of immigrants who joined native-born Americans in the northern armies. What were they fighting for? Again, "union" and the idea of a country that was seen in Europe as a "bright spot" among nations. Many countries - France, the German States, the Austria/Hungary - had weathered uprisings in 1848 by citizens protesting traditional rule. Many of these people emigrated to the US and saw this country - this "union" - as something worth fighting for and preserving.

Gary Gallagher is an elegant writer of history. He doesn't try to "pad" his text to make the book longer; he presents his ideas and supports them. Very good book.
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb synthesis of the Union Cause 11 Oct. 2011
By wsw - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Just when you think that you have read just about everything concerning the Civil War, Gary Gallagher masterfully weaves a superb synthesis of the reasons why men fought and died to preserve the Union. His work is balanced and reminds us of what was at stake for all who fought to preserve the Union first and secondly to eliminate the creation of a regressive slave holding oligarcy, which may well have led to the ultimate destruction of our great nation, created by the founding fathers, most of whom assumed that slavery would die a natural death, which indeed is what happened in the rest of the world by 1861.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Simple point but often overlooked- the cause for which the North fought 27 Jun. 2012
By Roanld Tenney - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Gallagher is a great lecturer (Listen to his lectures on the Teaching Company series)
This book makes a simple point, really. The cause and inspiration of the Civil war, from the loyal Northern perspective was the cause of UNION. Modern interpretations have morphed this into a primary battle for freedom and equality. Other historians insist that in reality, the blacks freed themselves by desertion and aiding the Union cause. Some downplay the role of the military in the outcome of the war.
Gallagher takes to task all of these and many more misguided assertions. He is best in defending his claims against all-comers. He has the credentials and background to make his claims stick. But that does make this book a very interesting read. Citing journals, memoirs, diaries and other contemporary documents, over and again he drives home his point. But really, can one find an equal number of diaries to refute his points and make counter arguments?
I think my complaint about this book is that I feel it could have been condensed into a well written though long essay. I found part of the book to drag on, repeating over and again his point.
I love alternative points of view and realize that all history is colored by the historian himself. For an alternative to modern scholars, Gallagher is there to "set the record straight". But I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone except one who is absolutely convinced that the war was won by runaway slaves and that the only cause worth fighting for was freedom and emancipation.
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