The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America
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. 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 readmission to the Union. With analysis as powerful as its narrative, here is a landmark history of the Civil War.
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About the Author
Ayers set out to re-create the lived experience of the Civil War--for Northerners and Southerners, blacks and whites, men and women, soldiers and civilians--without losing sight of the political turmoil and destructive violence that affected all of them. In that he has succeeded brilliantly.--James Oakes
Luminous.... An exemplary contribution to the history of the Civil War and its aftermath.
Superb.... An original contribution of unimpeachable scholarship.
Ayers focuses on the thoughts, fears, and hopes of normal people struggling to stay alive and make sense of the murderous events taking place around them. The result is a superb, readable work of history.
Edward Ayers masters a unique combination of detailed, granular, profoundly human social history with an extraordinary skill at narrative and a rare humility. This is the brilliant, long-awaited exclamation mark for the Valley of the Shadow.--David W. Blight, author of Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom