Historical History

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History teachers PREPARE students for the FUTURE by teaching about the PAST

19 December 2008

The Destructive War

Currently, I am reading a book called The Destructive War by Charles Royster, which tells of the destructiveness of the Civil War. The back cover reads, "From the moment the Civil War began, partisans on both sides were calling not just for a victory but for extermination. And both sides found leaders who would oblige. In this vivid and fearfully persuasive book, Charles Royster looks at W.T. Sherman and Stonewall Jackson, the men who came to embody the apocalyptic passions of North and South, and re-creates their characters, their stages, and the feelings they inspired in their countrymen. At once and incisive dual biography, hypnotically engrossing military history, and a cautionary examination of the American penchant for patriotic bloodshed, The Destructive War is a work of enormous power."

I would agree that Royster spends a significant portion of the book describing the character and background of the two key Generals, but I would disagree that the book is "a work of enormous power." I have found the book enjoyable to read and he does provide a great detail of military history within the pages of the book. Currently, I am on page 150 of 417, if you don't count the 100 pages of notes at the end.

Royster brings up a good point that I had not considered when studying the Civil War in college. That is the underlying question of the war, which many have said was slavery. The south needed slavery to survive in their agricultural society, because the white southerners could not afford to loose the free labor. However, Royster argues that it was not the question of slavery, nor race relations, or the political cultures of the two, but that "the central question was whether or not citizens would place loyalty to the nation and obedience to its government ahead of all other loyalties" (Royster, pg. 139). The point I believe he is making is that many individuals, especially in the South, were more loyal to their state than to the nation as a whole. Robert E. Lee would not take command of the Union Army because his loyalties remain with his home state of Virginia, which was seceding from the Union. So then, the question of where ones loyalties lied became the true underlying question of the Civil War, according to Charles Royster.

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