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A People at War (with Carol Sheriff)

Claiming more than 600,000 lives, the American Civil War had a devastating impact on countless numbers of common soldiers and civilians, even as it brought freedom to millions. This book shows how average Americans coped with despair as well as hope during this vast upheaval.A People at War brings to life the full humanity of the war's participants, from women behind their plows to their husbands in army camps; from refugees from slavery to their former masters; from Mayflower descendants to freshly recruited Irish sailors. We discover how people confronted their own feelings about the war itself, and how they coped with emotional challenges (uncertainty, exhaustion, fear, guilt, betrayal, grief) as well as physical ones (displacement, poverty, illness, disfigurement). The book explores the violence beyond the battlefield, illuminating the sharp-edged conflicts of neighbor against neighbor, whether in guerilla warfare or urban riots. The authors travel as far west as China and as far east as Europe, taking us inside soldiers' tents, prisoner-of-war camps, plantations, tenements, churches, Indian reservations, and even the cargo holds of ships. They stress the war years, but also cast an eye at the tumultuous decades that preceded and followed the battlefield confrontations.
An engrossing account of ordinary people caught up in life-shattering circumstances, A People at War captures how the Civil War rocked the lives of rich and poor, black and white, parents and children--and how all these Americans pushed generals and presidents to make the conflict a people's war.


"In a crowded field of books on the Civil War era... historians at the College of William and Mary, give us something new-an engaging, informed portrait of two peoples at war, with an emphasis on how common soldiers and noncombatants adjusted to and were changed by the war. ...They are especially good at linking the experience of, and expectations about, the war with Americans' ambitions and interests in the West. Their vivid descriptions of disease and destruction will remind readers that war was hell even as it was also an instrument of social change. The new social historians' interest in "the people" gets its full due in this readable, reliable, and remarkably relevant book. Highly recommended..." --Randall M. Miller Library Journal (Starred Review)

"A People at War stands out as one of the best comprehensive overviews because of its focus on the lives and experiences of ordinary civilians and soldiers... Scholars, the public, and especially students will benefit greatly from this highly readable and fascinating volume."--Maris Vinovskis, Bentley Professor of History, University of Michigan

"In 1861 Abraham Lincoln described the Civil War as "a people's contest." A People at War chronicles...just what that phrase meant to the millions of soldiers and their families and friends back home who experienced that bloodiest of American wars...the authors bring alive the impact of the war on ordinary as well as extraordinary people."--James M. McPherson, Princeton University

"Here at last is a lively and socially oriented history of the Civil War that sparkles with insights into the lives of those Americans excluded in traditional accounts of the conflict."--William Barney, University of North Carolina

"Bold, synthetic, and creative, A People at War presents the history of the Civil War in a way that is at once sweeping in scope and visceral in register...a revisionary emphasis on the global and imperial dimensions of the Civil War era, and a pointillist attention to the hopes and terrors of the ordinary people black, white, and Indian, women and men who lived and died on wars leading edge."--Walter Johnson, Harvard University

A People at War offers a “crisp, focused, readable treatment of how Americans came to make war upon each other and how the and how the consequences of political and military turmoil led them to change the nation they struggled over...This is easily the best short synthesis written in many years.” Lawrence T. McDonnell, Iowa State University

The book is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books a Million and from Oxford University Press