This Great Struggle: America's Civil War

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9780742551848: This Great Struggle: America's Civil War

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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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.

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 2011-03-01)

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)

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