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The Union War

Written by: Gary W. Gallagher
Narrated by: Mel Foster
Length: 7 hrs and 48 mins

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Publisher's Summary

Even 150 years later, we are haunted by the Civil War---by its division, its bloodshed, and perhaps, above all, by its origins. Today, many believe that the war was fought over slavery. This answer satisfies our contemporary sense of justice, but as Gary W. Gallagher shows in this brilliant revisionist history, it is an anachronistic judgment. In a searing analysis of the Civil War North as revealed in contemporary letters, diaries, and documents, Gallagher demonstrates that what motivated the North to go to war and persist in an increasingly bloody effort was primarily preservation of the Union. Devotion to the Union bonded nineteenth-century Americans in the North and West against a slaveholding aristocracy in the South and a Europe that seemed destined for oligarchy. Northerners believed they were fighting to save the republic, and with it the world's best hope for democracy. Once we understand the centrality of union, we can in turn appreciate the force that made Northern victory possible: the citizen-soldier. Gallagher reveals how the massive volunteer army of the North fought to confirm American exceptionalism by salvaging the Union. Contemporary concerns have distorted the reality of nineteenth-century Americans, who embraced emancipation primarily to punish secessionists and remove slavery as a future threat to union---goals that emerged in the process of war. As Gallagher recovers why and how the Civil War was fought, we gain a more honest understanding of why and how it was won.

©2011 The President and Fellows of Harvard College (P)2011 Tantor

What the critics say

"Brimming with insights, eloquent in argument, and filled with new evidence from the men who fought for the Union, this revisionist history will cause readers to rethink many of the now-standard Civil War interpretations. An essential work." ( Library Journal)

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  • Chiefkent
  • 2012-07-19


Dr. Gallagher focuses the Civil War in historical terms of the 19th Century, stripping away the political correctness attributions revised since the civil rights era of the 1960's of the North fighting to free the slaves. Yes, slavery was the issue that cause the secession of the southern states, but the the northern states were fighting to retain the Union, with slavery if necessary but one country. He ties the concept of 'Manifest Destiny' with the principles of the Declaration of Independence to explain why the people of the north fought the Civil War, in their own words.

The recent crop of histories and documentaries have been maintaining that the northern states fought primarily to free the slaves. There was a reason that Lincoln couldn't issue the Emancipation Proclamation until late 1863 - political suicide. Only a minority of northern citizens supported emancipating the slaves until it was put into terms of destroying the southern economy and hastening the end of the war. Saving the Union was the primary purpose that both new immigrants and established citizens of the northern states volunteered for Federal Service.

Mel Foster does yeoman work narrating Dr. Gallagher's work.

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  • Matt Haynes
  • 2017-10-06

Amazing book.....but....

.....who told the narrator he had the talent for accents? Good grief! Possibly the worst attempt at a southern male accent only topped by the attempt at a southern female accent. I can’t even describe the Irish and British attempts. The narrator was fine otherwise.
The author is incredibly knowledgeable and I have enjoyed his Great Courses lectures. We would have been much better served had he narrated his own book.
If you can get past the narrator’s accents this is an excellent listen.
I especially enjoyed the historical emphasis on war for Union.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2012-08-07

writer needs editing!

Would you try another book from Gary W. Gallagher and/or Mel Foster?

I would not try another book by Gallagher.

Would you be willing to try another book from Gary W. Gallagher? Why or why not?

the book has very interesting material but the author repeats certain statements in order to make his point clear. I find it tedious.

Have you listened to any of Mel Foster’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

The reader is quite good although I did speed up the pacing. I found Mel Foster's accents when quoting the various personages very entertaining.

I have not ever listened to him reading before.

Do you think The Union War needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

I have not finished it yet!!