The American War: A History of the Civil War Era

In The American War: A History of the Civil War Era, renowned historians Gary W. Gallagher and Joan Waugh provide a fresh examination of the Civil War, the great defining moment in U.S. history, as well as its aftermath and enduring memory, in a masterful work that prize-winning historian William C. Davis calls “easily the best one-volume assessment of the Civil War to date.” By investigating this crucial period of U.S. history through the eyes of civilians, celebrated leaders, and citizen soldiers alike, students and curious readers alike can gain a profound understanding of the dramatic political and military events and personalities as well as social and economic processes that caused the Civil War, enabled the Union to prevail over the Confederacy, and forever transformed the United States.

The American War: A History of the Civil War Era

In The American War: A History of the Civil War Era, renowned historians Gary W. Gallagher and Joan Waugh provide a fresh examination of the Civil War, the great defining moment in U.S. history, as well as its aftermath and enduring memory, in a masterful work that prize-winning historian William C. Davis calls “easily the best one-volume assessment of the Civil War to date.” By investigating this crucial period of U.S. history through the eyes of civilians, celebrated leaders, and citizen soldiers alike, students and curious readers alike can gain a profound understanding of the dramatic political and military events and personalities as well as social and economic processes that caused the Civil War, enabled the Union to prevail over the Confederacy, and forever transformed the United States.

New to the Second Edition

To keep up with current scholarship on the Civil War and Reconstruction periods, new or revised material has been incorporated throughout The American War on the following topics:

  • Chapter 1: The Corwin Amendment.
  • Chapter 3: Background and importance of the Trans-Mississippi theater in the war’s early stages; overview of conflicts with Native Americans between 1861 and 1865;
  • Chapter 4: Dix-Hill cartel of 1862; policies and practices of military occupation during and after the war.
  • Chapter 6: The war’s impact on human, animal, and environmental resources and dislocation.
  • Chapter 12: Recent clashes over the appropriateness of public Confederate memorials.
  • Further reading: Two dozen titles that combine accessibility and sound scholarship.
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James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom


The authors have written a succinct yet detailed and eloquent history of the conflict that preserved and reshaped the nation in ways that continue to affect us today. Noteworthy features of The American War are the inclusion of Reconstruction as an integral part of the war, as indeed it was, and a final chapter on the conflicting memories of the war by those who experienced it as they attempted to give meaning to their experiences.

William C. Davis, author of Crucible of Command: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee–The War They Fought, the Peace They Forged


No other recent work has so mastered the content and contributions of the best historians of our time, and distilled it into a work that is at once comprehensive and yet manageable. In their graceful words, Gallagher and Waugh offer the full context of the war’s coming, its course at home and in the field, and its consequences, both as it happened and as Americans chose to remember it. This is easily the best one-volume assessment of the Civil War era to date.

Matthew Gallman, author of Defining Duty in the Civil War: Personal Choice, Popular Culture, and the Union Home Front


Gallagher and Waugh do a wonderful job of explaining the main facts that shaped the war years and their aftermath. The authors manage to do justice to individual experiences and national goals in both the Union and the Confederacy, consider military strategies and battlefield tactics throughout the entire geographic landscape, and contemplate the war through the eyes of celebrated leaders, anonymous citizen soldiers, and a diversity of civilians – both white and black.

Edward L. Ayers, author of In the Presence of Mine Enemies: Civil War in the Heart of America


It is hard to see how any one brief volume could better deal with this vast subject. Gallagher and Waugh know all there is to know about the Civil War and manage to convey that knowledge with balanced judgment, engaging quotations, up-to-date scholarship, and humane insight.

Digital Features

The interactive version of The American War includes the following features:

  • Filmed debates between the others on topics such as the “inevitability” of secession, war, and Confederate defeat.
  • 40+ interview-style videos embedded within the textbook, including a dozen that feature Gary Gallagher on location at several battlefield sites.
  • 100+ hyperlinks to important online resources.
  • PowerPoint slide presentations available as an instructor resource at the end of each chapter.
  • Chapter quizzes available for easy upload to any LMS.
  • Embedded reading comprehension questions.

Table of Contents

This chapter surveys the late antebellum period and carries the narrative through the election of Lincoln, the secession of the Lower South, and the firing on Fort Sumter.

This chapter covers the secession of the Upper South, the struggle for the Border States, and the mobilization of resources, strategic planning, and early military campaigns. It addresses factors such as manpower, industrial capacity, geography, historical precedent, and European reaction as elements in handicapping the conflict.

This chapter charts the huge swings of momentum on the battlefield between the winter of 1861 and the winter of 1862; introduces students to key figures such as U. S. Grant, R. E. Lee, and George B. McClellan; discusses battles such as Shiloh, the Seven Days, and Antietam; and brings to the fore the concept of contingency.

This chapter explores the profoundly important concept of the citizen-soldier-which played an equally critical role in both the United States and the Confederacy. More than half of all men who served were true volunteers who entered service before conscription had been imposed.

This chapter builds on material in earlier chapters to explore the process by which emancipation came to be a non-negotiable war aim for the United States. It makes clear that until very late in the conflict emancipation was uncertain-the war could have ended with slavery largely intact and with few black men in uniform.

This chapter focuses on the year that often is described as the time when fortunes turned irrevocably toward United States victory-with Gettysburg and Vicksburg serving as twin turning points that doomed the Confederacy. In this chapter, a more complex reading of the period is presented-which also included massive anti-draft and anti-African American riots in New York City that highlighted political turmoil on the Union home front and continuing resolve across much of the Confederacy.

This chapter describes the sense of nation that imbued both war efforts, the massive expansion of central power in the Confederacy, the impressive– but less striking–expansion of federal power in the United States, and the need to engage the conflict as a war between two modern nation states rather than as a bloody uprising by one segment of the American population.

This chapter examines the varying experiences of different groups of women, white and black, behind the lines in the United States and the Confederacy (proximity to armies played a crucial role here). It explores the movement of women into different workspaces, black and white refugees in the Confederacy, and the degree to which women supported the respective war efforts.

This chapter examines the last year of the war with a focus on U. S. Grant’s strategic planning and execution. It reinforces the theme of contingency, showing how the summer of 1864 represented the lowest point of Union morale for the war and how emancipation, even at that late date, was not a sure thing.

This chapter describes the peace agreement signed at Appomattox Court House in 1865 that achieved the United States’ goals of reunion and emancipation, and then explores the aims of northern whites, southern whites, and the freed people in the immediate aftermath of war.

This chapter examines how Republicans fared in implementing congressional Reconstruction in the southern states from 1868 to 1876.

This chapter outlines the emergence of the major memory traditions of the Civil War — Union, the Lost Cause, Emancipation, and Reconciliation.

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Joan Waugh

Joan Waugh has received several national awards for her scholarship and has been honored with three teaching prizes, including UCLA’s Distinguished Teaching Award.

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Gary W. Gallagher

Gary W. Gallagher is the author or editor of more than thirty books on the Civil War period and recipient of the University of Virginia’s Distinguished Teaching Professorship.

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