Andrew Ward: Drawing wide praise for his book about slaves

Historians in the News

As the Civil War raged, those in bondage felt torn about whether to root for the Union military or to hope for the safety of their masters who supported the Confederacy.

Andrew Ward, author of "The Slaves' War" (Houghton Mifflin, 386 pages, $28), notes, "The feature of the slave South that puzzled and disappointed the more idealistic Yankees was the diligence with which so many of the slaves they encountered protected and sustained their masters' plantations."

Ward's research has uncovered information quite likely unknown to most contemporary readers, despite the thousands of books published about the Civil War. For example, by 1861 a "higher percentage of blacks than whites had been born in America," Ward notes. "In fact, only one percent were African-born. No group except Native Americans had deeper North American roots." How such deep roots resulted in slavery instead of citizenship constitutes not only a gigantic injustice, but also irony in the extreme.

The soul of the book is found not in Ward's big-picture research, but in the words of slaves themselves. Ward devotes 40 pages to "a directory of witnesses," an alphabetical list of every person quoted. Studying the details about the lives of every person listed underscores the staggering nature of Ward's achievement....

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