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ACW Book Review: Wars Within a War

By Gordon Berg
2/20/2018 • America's Civil War Magazine

Wars Within a War: Controversy and Conflict Over the American Civil War

 edited by Joan Waugh and Gary W. Gallagher, University of North Carolina Press, 2009, $30

Anthologies prepared from conference papers often vary greatly in quality of content and competency of writing. Although the essays in Wars Within a War: Controversy and Conflict Over the American Civil War, originally prepared by 12 Civil War scholars for a 2006 conference at Harvard University. are skillfully, often elegantly, composed, they are inconsistent in terms of intellectual rigor and quality of argument.

The volume’s most moving work is by Drew Gilpin Faust, who documents the monumental task of burying and reburying the Union dead that confronted the Federal government between 1865 and 1871. In April 1865, Faust points out, “the work of killing was officially complete, but the claims of the dead persisted.”

Stephanie McCurry examines the food riots that occurred in Confederate cities in 1863 to make a persuasive argument that “one consequence of the war was the reconfiguration of southern political life, particularly the way power on the home front shifted along gender lines, as white women emerged into authority and even leadership on a range of issues that lay at the very heart of popular politics in the Civil War South.” William Blair, meanwhile, gives the Second Confiscation Act an insightful dissection and finds its complicated provisions, purposely included by moderate Republicans in Congress, actually made the law a moderate one, not the harsh punishment for rebellious Confederates that many Radical Republicans favored.

Other essays are by notables such as Harold Holzer, James McPherson and Carol Reardon. Taken together, the pieces succeed in meeting the intent of the volume’s editors to suggest “some of the many forms of conflict that arose among civilians, soldiers, politicians, and military leaders during the war.”

 

Originally published in the March 2010 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here

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