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Publisher's Summary

A landmark Civil War history told from a fresh, deeply researched ground-level perspective

At the crux of America's history stand two astounding events: the immediate and complete destruction of the most powerful system of slavery in the modern world, followed by a political reconstruction in which new constitutions established the fundamental rights of citizens for formerly enslaved people. Few people living in 1860 would have dared imagine either event, and yet, in retrospect, both seem to have been inevitable.

In a beautifully crafted narrative, Edward L. Ayers restores the drama of the unexpected to the history of the Civil War. He does this by setting up at ground level in the Great Valley counties of Augusta, Virginia, and Franklin, Pennsylvania, communities that shared a prosperous landscape but were divided by the Mason-Dixon Line. From the same vantage point occupied by his unforgettable characters, Ayers captures the strategic savvy of Lee and his local lieutenants, and the clear vision of equal rights animating black troops from Pennsylvania. We see the war itself become a scourge to the Valley, its pitched battles punctuating a cycle of vicious attack and reprisal in which armies burned whole towns for retribution. In the weeks and months after emancipation, from the streets of Staunton, Virginia, we see black and white residents testing the limits of freedom as political leaders negotiate the terms of re-admission to the Union.

Ayers deftly shows throughout how the dynamics of political opposition drove these momentous events, transforming once unimaginable outcomes into fact. With analysis as powerful as its narrative, here is a landmark history of the Civil War.

©2017 Edward L. Ayers (P)2017 Audible, Inc.

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  • Linda Sisco
  • 30-11-2017

great history

well done historical account of the Shenandoah Valley. enjoyed it and learned a great deal.

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  • SarahMc
  • 23-11-2017

Beautifully done

I believe I know more about my country than I did before reading this book, and appreciated every word. The title says it all.

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  • Slide01
  • 25-07-2020

Context for Our Times

Ayers looks through a unique lens to explain the context of the Civil War, focusing primarily on the experience of two neighboring towns, one in Pennsylvania and one in Virginia. This tight view allows him to explore the issues and context of the war in a much more personal way. It is not the telling of grand battles on a grand scale, rather an intimate exploration of the issues, people, fears, and manipulation of the conflict. As one who has not paid a lot of attention to the reconstruction period, I found the last section of the book just as illuminating. My final comment: The position and posturing of the two main political parties of the north will be informative to most, and cause some to scratch their heads and ask how we let ourselves get from that moment of opportunity to today.

I listened via Audible. The narrator is fine but slow. I reverted to 1.5x for the last third of the book (an unusual tactic for me) and found it much more engaging as my mind didn't wander between words. :/

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  • Charlie Kendall
  • 26-07-2019

Very Insightful

Enjoyed the focus on location and the people and the affects of the war on both. The recorded thoughts of individual diaries from both soldiers and private citizens is priceless from an historical standpoint. The information was assembled and presented in a very organized and understandable fashion.

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