Michael Shaara “The Killer Angels” and Alan Brinkley “The Unfinished Nation”.

Role of slavery and understanding of the Civil War in books of Michael Shaara “The Killer Angels” and Alan Brinkley “The Unfinished Nation”.

Many historians have different opinion on understanding the role of slavery and the coming of the Civil War (1861-1865), therefore we will evaluate only two authors: Michael Shaara with his book “The Killer Angels” and Alan Brinkley with the book “The Unfinished Nation”.

In accordance with Alan Brinkley and his book “The Unfinished Nation” in the 1830s and 1840s Northern and Southern societies developed and there was the growth of the nation.

Both sections expanded physically and economically. Northern economy was characterized several developments:

  • industrial expansion
  • the growth of transportation systems
  • diverse population

Southern economy rests on the opposite factors such as

  • staple-crop agriculture
  • slave labor

Although South experienced changes, but, in comparison to North, the slave states’ way of life seemed more rooted in the past than in the future. Most Southerners supported the slaveholding elites and hoped to be part of it. Although there was a low number of planters — agricultural elite in the South — they influenced society and politics beyond their numbers. According to the author while slaves worked, endured and resisted they created a culture that remains an important part of American life.

Eventually the situation began to change. Northerners were confident that the slavery expansion would lead to several results, such as:

  • threatening the democratic foundations of the country
  • giving the South control of the government leading the economic to stagnation, unemployment, and financial ruin

Therefore North wished to take control over South to prevent above-mentioned impact on American economic. But the South was convinced of the legality of its position and validity of its institutions and fought back with success. The slave states were secure under the Democratic Party and supporters on the Supreme Court.

Alan Brinkley states the idea that the main reason of the Civil War is slavery. Moreover the author says that the Civil War gave birth to the modern United States of America. The results of the war were:

  • abolished slavery
  • free labor
  • industrial growth
  • material progress

Therefore a new era for the country began.

The author of the book “The Killer Angels” points out that the basic and the most important topic involved within the Civil War is social concern. Indeed the ultimate social disruption of Civil War encompasses a broad spectrum of moral issues. It is a battle between two realms, from one hand it is a struggle between individuals to maintain integrity, from another hand it the dismemberment of a nation.

There are several themes in the book, which seem to be quite different from what historians would say about Civil War and its leaders. One of such themes is the fact that the North insisted that the war was all about slavery but in fact this was not the case in the South. So the main principles were fighting for freedom and fighting against the laws forced by the Union.

The author of the book analyzes slavery as a peripheral factor, which was not the only one that contributed to the Civil War. The book contains the episode where a Northern unit rescues a wounded fugitive slave, but that illustration is more like one of many episodes leading to the end of the war. For Shaara slavery is a fundamental clash between two radically different concepts of society.

One of the main characteristics of the book is that the Civil War accomplished nothing but deaths of many men. George Pickett understands that the war is not just about slavery (Shaara, p. 71). After each battle thousands of men died and eventually nobody could understand what for. It is evident that one of the causes of the war is slavery but there where also other circumstance which contributed to the cause of the Civil War such as the election of Abraham Lincoln.

So it is the most obvious myth that North’s goal was to free the slaves. There is a fact that slavery was used to rally the Northern population behind Abraham Lincoln’s war. Surely some Americans did fight to set men free but most were fighting for one purpose — to preserve the union, which meant keeping Southern people as a tax base to feed Northern industrialists.  In 1863 Abraham Lincoln adopted the emancipation as a war aim. After the offer to restore the Southern states with slavery intact failed to bring them back into the fold. So Shaara points out that North was rather committed to racial justice and moreover he dramatizes the racism of the Northern soldiers in a crucial scene: “Chamberlain’s curiosity was natural and friendly, but there was a reserve in it, an unexpected caution. The man was really very black. Chamberlain felt an oddness, a crawly sensation, not wanting to touch him. He shook his head, amazed at himself…. But he felt it again: a flutter of unmistakable revulsion. Fat lips, brute jaw, red-veined eyeballs…. The reaction [was] instinctive. Any alien thing. And yet Chamberlain was ashamed; he had not known it was there” (Shaare, pp. 179-180).

So the book “The Killer Angels” represents the idea that the Civil War was more politically complex with regards to Abraham Lincoln and actions of Republican Party. The Northern politicians were making an attempt to implement a monarchial form of government, which was the main reason colonists fought against in the American Revolution. The main cause of the war consisted of two facts:

  1. Lincoln rejected the right to peaceable secession of the eleven sovereign states
  2. the denial of self-government to the 8 million people of eleven sovereign states

And that’s how the “Lincoln’s war” started with the help of great armies of destruction sent to the South.

The Civil War had also many impact on people. The author reflects the fact — only yesterday people were friends and were fighting for the same thins together, today they are on the opposite side of the battle field and they are fighting against each other. Moreover, as the spy comments “there’ll be some of them die of the heat today” (Shaala, p. 3) and normally people would be shocked to now that some people would be dead within a few hours, but the spy has grown numb to it.

Making conclusion it is important to say that two authors had a different opinion on the role of slavery and understanding of the Civil War. Alan Brinkley reflects the idea that slavery, which expanded during 1830s and 1840s, was the main cause of the Civil War since it created a barrier between North and South. Michael Shaala does not deny the role of slavery though he says that its role was not the main cause of the Civil War. He considers political aspects more important when we talk about the Civil War and its causes. Two authors are not alike in describing the results of the war. Meanwhile Alan Brinkley says the Civil War was the end of the old era and beginning of new one, Michael Shaala states the idea that the Civil War accomplished nothing but deaths of many men.


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