Loyal Americans marched off to war in 1861 not to conquer the South but to liberate it. So argues Elizabeth R. Varon in Armies of Deliverance, a sweeping narrative of the Civil War and a bold new interpretation of Union and Confederate war aims. Northerners imagined the war as a crusade to deliver the Southern masses from slaveholder domination and to bring democracy, prosperity, and education to the region. As the war escalated, Lincoln and his allies built the case that emancipation would secure military victory and benefit the North and South alike. The theme of deliverance was essential in mobilizing a Unionist coalition of Northerners and anti-Confederate Southerners.Confederates, fighting to establish an independent slaveholding republic, were determined to preempt, discredit, and silence Yankee appeals to the Southern masses. In their quest for political unity Confederates relentlessly played up two themes: Northern barbarity and Southern victimization. Casting the Union army as ruthless conquerors, Confederates argued that the emancipation of blacks was synonymous with the subjugation of the white South.Interweaving military and social history, Varon shows that everyday acts on the ground-from the flight of slaves, to protests against the draft, the plundering of civilian homes, and civilian defiance of military occupation-reverberated at the highest levels of government. Varon also offers new perspectives on major battles, illuminating how soldiers and civilians alike coped with the physical and emotional toll of the war as it grew into a massive humanitarian crisis.The Union's politics of deliverance helped it to win the war. But such appeals failed to convince Confederates to accept peace on the victor's terms, ultimately sowing the seeds of postwar discord. Armies of Deliverance offers innovative insights on the conflict for those steeped in Civil War history and novices alike.
Armies of Deliverance Review
- January 1, 1970Robin FriedmanDeliverance And The Civil WarLearning about the United States and its history is a never-ending rewarding experience. In particular, the study of the many facets of the Civil War can bring insights over a lifetime to amateurs, Civil War "buffs", and scholars alike. In times of turmoil it is good to think closely about America.The joy and the rewards of learning about the Civil War are amply fulfilled in Elizabeth Varon's new (2019) one-volume history of the conflict, "Armies of Deliverance: A Ne Deliverance And The Civil WarLearning about the United States and its history is a never-ending rewarding experience. In particular, the study of the many facets of the Civil War can bring insights over a lifetime to amateurs, Civil War "buffs", and scholars alike. In times of turmoil it is good to think closely about America.The joy and the rewards of learning about the Civil War are amply fulfilled in Elizabeth Varon's new (2019) one-volume history of the conflict, "Armies of Deliverance: A New History of the Civil War". The Langbourne M. Williams Professor of History at the University of Virginia, Varon has written extensively on the Civil War, including a book I have read and reviewed, "Appomattox: Victory, Defeat and Freedom at the End of the Civil War" (2013). Varon's new study of the entire conflict is elegantly and seriously written, displays great knowledge of the source material and the work of other scholars, and displays thoughtful judgment. The book also develops a fresh perspective on the war and on the reasons why it was fought.The book brings together the military, social and political history of the war, with the discussion of battles and campaigns receiving somewhat less attention than in other studies. Varon's focus is on the reasons which led the Union to conduct and persevere in the long, bloody difficult four-year conflict with the Confederacy. Typically scholars have offered and given different emphases to two different answers to this question: 1. the desire to preserve and restore the Union and 2. the desire to end slavery. Varon tries to find a third answer to the question that combines the strengths of the two most common answers: she finds the Civil War constituted a War of Deliverance. She argues that both North and South saw the war in this fashion but in mirror-image ways. Most of her book is given over to explaining what a "War of Deliverance" meant to the participants and how it was waged. Her understanding of the conflict is set out in the book's lengthy Introduction, titled "We are Fighting for Them" which sets the stage for the treatment in the body of the study.Varon argues that the Union fought the war for the benefit of the white southern population as much as for the slaves. The North saw the white population as in part a "deluded mass" under the control of the small aristocracy of the Slave Power which fought the war for its own benefit and used and cared little for the southern people. White southerners were victimized by lack of economic opportunity, lack of education, poor living conditions, and restrictions on their thought and expression by the small aristocracy of large slaveholders. The Union sought to deliver southerners into the benefits of free society. Hence, it fought the Civil War as a War of Deliverance. Varon argues in detail how this understanding of the aims of the war helped united the disparate Union coalition which included Abolitionists, moderate Republicans, War Democrats, and more. Her view of the war focuses even more attention on the importance of the Border States than they receive in most studies. And it shows, in Varon's account, how the Union could combine elements of "hard" war as waged by Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan with many conciliatory gestures towards southerners, former Confederates, and border state residents who came over to the Union cause. Varon also discusses who the Confederates cast their own efforts as a "war of deliverance" to free themselves from the Yankees and their alleged barbarism, brutality, and materialism.The North over-estimated the strength of Southern Unionism and the degree to which southern whites felt themselves in the thrall of the aristocracy. Varon recognizes this fact which is critical to understanding her study. She writes "In hindsight, Lincoln and other Northern political figures and writers were clearly wrong about a Southern populace deceived and coerced into supporting the secession movement." She finds that "far greater evidence exists of the robust support of white Southerners for secession on the eve of war." In the short concluding chapter of the book, Varon stresses the faulty assumptions on which the deliverance theory of the war was based by examining the fate of Reconstruction. Still, understanding the Civil War as motivated by an aim of delivering and redeeming the "deluded masses" of the South has a great deal to commend it in explaining the conduct of the war.Varon's study itself consists of three large parts, well-titled, "Loyalism" which covers the period up to the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, "Emancipation" , which takes the war through Gettysburg, Vicksburg, the New York City Draft Riots, and Fort Wagner, and "Amnesty" which covers the last year and one-half of the war. Throughout the book, Varon weaves together the military aspects of the war with the political history, a rare and important accomplishment. While she discusses the Emancipation Proclamation at length, she focuses even more on Lincoln's Ten Percent Plan late in the war as evidence of Lincoln's attempts to offer a conciliatory approach to southern whites. She also treats extensively and well the 1864 presidential election and Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, often considered his greatest speech and maturest statement of his war aims. The study throughout shows Lincoln's evolving attitude towards the slaves and his necessary efforts throughout the war to maintain the allegiance of the border states, included repeated attempts at compensated emancipation.The word "deliverance", Varon concludes, remains of critical importance in understanding how the Union viewed the "deluded" southern whites and, ultimately, how it viewed the slaves. She writes: "the story of Civil War-era deliverance politics is both bounded by a specific time and place and boundless, with modern echoes. In the Civil War era, more than today, the term and the Union War aims were resonant with Biblical overtones derived from the Book of Exodus. "Over the course of the long civil rights crusade" Varon writes, "generations of African American activists together with their white allies have again and again drawn on the symbolic power of the Exodus story and of deliverance narratives."Varon's book offers a moving account of the Civil War and of deliverance. The book is a joy to read and ponder for those who want to learn about the United States and the seminal event of its history.Robin Friedmanmore
- January 1, 1970Jill MeyerIs there a reason we need a new history of the American Civil War? Haven't many complete war histories, as well as books specialising on individual campaigns, battles, and war participants already been published? Yes, of course, but history has been constantly updated with discoveries of new records, reports, and interviews. Elizabeth Varon, using new sources, has written an excellent new "biography" of the Civil War in her book, "Armies of Deliverance: A New History of the Civil War". Much of t Is there a reason we need a new history of the American Civil War? Haven't many complete war histories, as well as books specialising on individual campaigns, battles, and war participants already been published? Yes, of course, but history has been constantly updated with discoveries of new records, reports, and interviews. Elizabeth Varon, using new sources, has written an excellent new "biography" of the Civil War in her book, "Armies of Deliverance: A New History of the Civil War". Much of the new research concerns WHY the South chose to secede from the Union and WHY the North chose to go after them to keep them in. Varon goes into the politics of the time and explains how the United States - having come together as a nation merely 80-some years before - had bollixed up the slavery issue into the major impediment in keeping the Union together. Varon explains difficult concepts easily and her writing is excellent.Elizabeth Varon's book is large, running over 500 pages. I'd really advise, if you have the chance, to buy the Kindle version for two reasons. One is just the sheer weight of the book if you hold it, and the other is the ability to switch between Kindle app and Wikipedia. Varon's book is extremely readable but you may well have questions as you read along that flipping to Wiki for facts is the best way to read a history book.more
- January 1, 1970Leonard SingerCrisp history of the war. But the “deliverance “ theme is weak and inconsistent.
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