The Civil War thrust millions of men and women-rich and poor, soldiers and civilians, enslaved and free-onto the roads of the South. During four years of war, Southerners lived on the move. In the hands of Yael A. Sternhell, movement becomes a radically new means to perceive the full trajectory of the Confederacy's rise, struggle, and ultimate defeat.
By focusing not only on the battlefield and the home front but also on the roads and woods that connected the two, this pioneering book investigates the many roles of bodies in motion. We watch battalions of young men as they march to the front, galvanizing small towns along the way, creating the Confederate nation in the process. We follow deserters straggling home and refugees fleeing enemy occupation, both hoping to escape the burdens of war. And in a landscape turned upside down, we see slaves running toward freedom, whether hundreds of miles away or just beyond the plantation's gate.
Based on a vast array of documents, from slave testimonies to the papers of Confederate bureaucrats to the private letters of travelers from all walks of life, Sternhell unearths the hidden connections between physical movements and their symbolic meanings, individual bodies and entire armies, the reinvention of a social order and the remaking of private lives. Movement, as means of liberation and as vehicle of subjugation, lay at the heart of the human condition in the wartime South.
The author’s incisive analysis leads to a number of fresh and fascinating ways to understand the history of the Civil War and its discontents… Routes of War is a grand achievement because it raises…important questions that have not been examined in the many thousands of books and articles published on the Civil War. Sternhell deserves accolades not only for this, but also for demonstrating quite efficaciously how motion constitutes a fundamental aspect of war in general. The most brilliant aspect of the book is her willingness to analyze motion both as a physical act and as a symbol of meaning.
It’s not easy to say something fresh about the American Civil War; truly pioneering studies are few and far between. But Sternhell provides a decidedly new vantage point from which to view the war and to understand what it meant to Southerners—soldiers, slaves, and civilians.
Sternhell writes beautifully and convincingly, arguing that the road can be a place of liberty, of opportunity—but also of failure and fear.
- 2013, Joint winner of the Francis B. Simkins Award
- 272 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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