“Does for the Civil War period what Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States did for the study of American history in general.” —Library Journal
Historian David Williams has written the first account of the American Civil War as viewed though the eyes of ordinary people—foot soldiers, slaves, women, prisoners of war, draft resisters, Native Americans, and others. Richly illustrated with little-known anecdotes and firsthand testimony, this path-breaking narrative moves beyond presidents and generals to tell a new and powerful story about America’s most destructive conflict.
A People’s History of the Civil War is a “readable social history” that “sheds fascinating light” on this crucial period. In so doing, it recovers the long-overlooked perspectives and forgotten voices of one of the defining chapters of American history (Publishers Weekly).
“Meticulously researched and persuasively argued.” —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
This hefty but readable social history by a confessed disciple of Howard Zinn reframes the Civil War as a conflict not simply between North and South but between the underclass and the power elites both Confederate and Union. With populist zeal, Williams (Plain Folk in a Rich Man's War) catalogues the influence of the common folk dissenters, resisters, women, nonslaveholding whites, laborers, African-Americans and Native Americans locating the conflict's origins in class divisions in the wartime South. Williams illuminates both women's hardships and their shift into new roles (feisty Northern and Southern women became spies and soldiers). For the enlisted or conscripted common man, conditions were a far cry from those of the affluent brass, and the author emphasizes the actions of draft evaders and deserters (draft riots swept Northern cities in the summer of 1863). He details the role of resisting blacks who fought for their own freedom while Lincoln demonstrated an "ambiguous attitude towards" them. For Native Americans, Williams writes, the era marked their continued dispossession. Though Williams flattens history through a materialist lens, this account sheds fascinating light on neglected aspects of the period and will make a worthwhile companion volume to military histories.