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Review – The American Civil War

If you’ve ever wanted to learn a bit about the American Civil War, this audiobook is a good place to start.

Between 1861 and 1865, the clash of the greatest armies the Western hemisphere had ever seen turned small towns, little-known streams, and obscure meadows in the American countryside into names we will always remember. In those great battles, those streams ran red with blood – and the United States was truly born.

If you’ve ever wanted to understand the Civil War, this series of 48 startlingly evocative lectures by a leading Civil War historian can serve as both an ideal single course or a solid starting point for further exploration – a richly detailed examination of how this great conflict affected every person in America. For you’ll gain not only a deep knowledge of what happened, but new insights into why.

You’ll learn how both sides’ armies were recruited, equipped, and trained, and about the hard lot of those they took prisoner. You’ll hear how soldiers on each of those sides dealt with the rigors of camp life, campaigns, and the terror of combat. And you’ll understand how slaves and their falling masters responded to the advancing war, as well as the desperate price paid by the families so many left behind.

Though this series of lectures goes far beyond a simple examination of battles and generals, it also offers detailed analyses of the strategic and tactical dimensions of the Civil War’s most important campaigns. At the same time, it never forgets that the conflict involved far more than pins on a map – and indeed claimed a greater cost in human lives than all other American wars combined.

Professor Gary Gallagher does an excellent job at giving a 10,000 foot survey of the Civil War.  He starts with the stresses on the nation that brought about the war, the events that led up to separation and war, the conduct of the campaigns and battles, and ends up with a brief discussion of the impact the war had on the United States for the fifty years or so after its conclusion.  Intermixed with all of this, he discusses the societies of the North and South, their comparative strengths and weaknesses, and the war’s impact on groups such as women, immigrants, and African-Americans.

While the political and cultural aspects of the war are still hotly debated, Professor Gallagher does an excellent job at giving an even-handed narrative.  Neither side was as heroic and virtuous as some would have us believe, but neither were they complete villains.

This is a great survey course that should direct you to more in-depth discussions of the various subjects that the Civil War entails.  Unfortunately, if Professor Gallagher dove as deeply as I would have liked in certain places, his course would have stretched for months instead of days.  Take The American Civil War as a good introduction for those who are just learning and a good refresher for those more familiar with the subject.

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