The War Between the States
America’s Uncivil War
John J. Dwyer’s highly valuable book is divided into three portions. The first discusses the coming of the War Between the States. Four chapters cover slavery–the way slaves lived, the political problems over slavery, how slavery in the United States compared to slavery in the Bible, etc.–while others cover nullification, secession, tariffs, and nationalism. Dwyer also includes several chapters on the different worldviews of the North and the South (it is here that his Reformed beliefs come out most clearly) in which the effects of the Great Awakenings and Unitarianism on American religion are discussed.
Facets on events, documents, and important people add vivid life to the volume. For example, in one facet parts of a sermon by John Jasper, a black preacher, are printed. Other facets cover the history of secession in America, the Enlightenment belief in a “social contract,” and the influence of educator Horace Mann.
The second part of Dwyer’s The War Between the States concerns the War itself, from its early days to its end at Appomattox. Dwyer keeps the pace moving rather than allowing himself to become bogged down in unnecessary detail. One chapter discusses the religious revivals in the armies, and facets cover such various topics as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Cherokee general Stand Watie, martial law in Maryland, federal Christian Oliver O. Howard, and the rules of just war.
The last section gives an in-depth look at Reconstruction. One of the strengths of Dwyer’s book is that he does his utmost to be fair, and this trait thankfully shows in his discussion of Reconstruction. We read about the struggles of Southerners (both black and white) to get on their feet; the corruption of the government after the War; and the various vigilante movements that sprang up. Dwyer, of course, discusses the early Klan (as well as how it differs from the modern day Klan), but he also writes about the Klan’s pro-federal counterpart, the Union League. Again, the facets are both diverse and interesting: some document the experience of black leaders, one includes the fiery anti-Radical speech of Benjamin Hill, and another covers the Congressional Minority Report on the Klan.
In the face of all the historical information, Dwyer never fails to remember that history is, after all, a story, and The War Between the States creates a sweeping picture in the minds of readers that will not soon be erased.