Read In the Presence of Mine Enemies: The Civil War in the Heart of America, 1859-1864 by Edward L. Ayers Online


Our standard Civil War histories tell a reassuring story of the triumph, in an inevitable conflict, of the dynamic, free-labor North over the traditional, slave-based South, vindicating the freedom principles built into the nation's foundations.But at the time, on the borderlands of Pennsylvania and Virginia, no one expected war, and no one knew how it would turn out. TheOur standard Civil War histories tell a reassuring story of the triumph, in an inevitable conflict, of the dynamic, free-labor North over the traditional, slave-based South, vindicating the freedom principles built into the nation's foundations.But at the time, on the borderlands of Pennsylvania and Virginia, no one expected war, and no one knew how it would turn out. The one certainty was that any war between the states would be fought in their fields and streets.Edward L. Ayers gives us a different Civil War, built on an intimate scale. He charts the descent into war in the Great Valley spanning Pennsylvania and Virginia. Connected by strong ties of every kind, including the tendrils of slavery, the people of this borderland sought alternatives to secession and war. When none remained, they took up war with startling intensity. As this book relays with a vivid immediacy, it came to their doorsteps in hunger, disease, and measureless death. Ayers's Civil War emerges from the lives of everyday people as well as those who helped shape history—John Brown and Frederick Douglass, Lincoln, Jackson, and Lee. His story ends with the valley ravaged, Lincoln's support fragmenting, and Confederate forces massing for a battle at Gettysburg....

Title : In the Presence of Mine Enemies: The Civil War in the Heart of America, 1859-1864
Author :
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ISBN : 9780393326017
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 496 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

In the Presence of Mine Enemies: The Civil War in the Heart of America, 1859-1864 Reviews

  • Eromsted
    2019-06-15 21:58

    In the Presence of Mine Enemies is the first of a projected two volume history of the impact of the Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley. This volume begins with John Brown’s raid on Harpers ferry and ends with the first battle of Gettysburg. The central materials on which Ayers bases his account are drawn out of the extensive collection of primary source documents from Augusta County, Virginia and Franklin County, Pennsylvania. These materials are available in full online at the University of Virginia’s Valley of Shadow Project, There is also a companion volume and CD-ROM titled The Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War. Men and women from the highlighted counties participated in some of the major events of the approach to war and the campaign in the eastern theater, including: the planning of John Brown’s raid in Franklin, PA, the Republican campaign for Lincoln, the Virginia Secession convention (which although initially reluctant in the end helped to unite the south) and Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign. Jeddidiah Hotchkiss, Jackson’s surveyor, and John Imboden, who led the South’s guerilla campaigns, were from Augusta and Franklin County sent a disproportionate share of its black residents to the initial Negro regiments. But more than the story of the participants, Ayers’ account is a record of the reactions to the war of those who remained at home. Joseph Ellis sums up the author’s aims aptly, if somewhat floridly, on the back cover, “Ayers gives us a raw slice of the Civil War that defies all magisterial and moralistic renditions. Here is what it looked, felt, and smelled like in one bloody corridor of the struggle, before the messy confusion that is war had congealed into more coherent and comfortable categories.” The material for this “raw slice of the civil war” is drawn primarily from letters, diaries, local newspaper accounts written by residents of the two counties. The story is well carried and the primary materials do provide new insights and a richer texture than is found in the typical survey. For an experienced reader there is some drag as well warn material is rehearsed, but this ensures that the novice student will not be lost. After the introduction to the region, there is a clear bias in favor of the South in the depth and breadth of source materials covered. A large part of the Northern story is drawn from the competing local newspapers of the Democratic and Republican parties which were bound to over-represent the polemical. Ayers has significantly less material from diaries and letters for the North as for the South. Not that Ayers is by any means a Confederate sympathizer, he simply seems somewhat more interested in the continuities and contradictions in the Southern experience of the war. Ayers’ primary conclusions are as follows. In the border North, Lincoln may have won, and opposition to slavery was real but there were few true abolitionists and a large share of the population were Democrats who had no qualms with slavery as long as it stayed down south. However, once the issue was forced by the Secessionists at Fort Sumter, a strong Northern national feeling developed and there was widespread agreement on the need to defeat the rebels. The Democrats did keep up a raucous political debate, but the primary claim was that they would do a better job of winning the war than the Republicans (shades of the current conflict in Iraq). They also strenuously opposed linking the war to abolition as that would prevent any reconciliation with the south and hordes of unskilled, unwashed ex-slaves would stream into the north disrupting white life and livelihood. In other words, Northern racism was unmistakable. As the conflict neared in the South, Virginians were strongly unionist, the Augusta representatives voicing some of the strongest union support in the initial stages of the Virginia convention. Once again however, once the die was cast at Fort Sumter (from the South’s perspective it was, of course, Lincoln’s doing). The Virginians too lined up their full support behind the Confederate national cause. Ayers is adamant in pointing out that the initial unionism of the Virginians in no way indicated opposition to slavery. Rather they argued that conflict with the North was the greatest threat to their peculiar institution, a position proved right in the end. The South was far more uniform in their public support for the Confederate administration, but in private many Virginians resented their burden as the fighting ground of the war when the deep south leaders would be prime beneficiaries of a victory. Probably most interesting in Ayers’ account is the speed with which passionate nationalism developed on each side as soon as hostilities broke out. Although no one wanted to be the cause of a battle in which the outcome was so uncertain, once begun there was almost a sense of relief at the chance to settle a conflict which had been brewing for so long. I am reminded of the passion of the young men of Europe marching off to the trenches of WWI. And though in both cases passion soon turned to horror, once begun no one knew how to stop except through total victory. But are these conclusions really so new? Ayers’ main target as a “magisterial and moralistic rendition” is James McPherson’s classic work, The Battle Cry of Freedom. And although Ayers’ more detailed review of the source material provides a greater sense of the uncertainty of living through the war, the general conclusions outlined above are little different from those in McPherson’s account. I do plan to read the second volume when it appears and together these books could make an interesting centerpiece for a college level class on the Civil War, especially considering the pedagogical value of the associated Valley of Shadow Project. However, this is not quite the grand retelling of the Civil War that was advertised.

  • Patrick SG
    2019-05-21 19:50

    A novel approach to telling the story of the years leading up to Civil War as Dr. Ayers presents detailed stories of two communities. One in Virginia and the other in Pennsylvania, they are separated by only a few miles, but by different attitudes, economies and reasons for fighting.

  • Billy
    2019-06-16 18:47

    In the Presence of Mine Enemies examines the collected archives of two counties in the Great Valley of the United States. Ayres shows that in both Franklin County, Pennsylvania and Virginia’s Augusta County, the Civil War never was a clear-cut issue of right vs. wrong, slave vs. free, state vs. nation. Ayers’ argues that contingency is present throughout the events leading up to the Civil War, an insight that contests the often accepted view that southern succession was inevitable. He shows how these neighboring counties could diverge so sharply with thoughts on the coming of war and the loss of life. His examination may be confined to these two regions, but Ayers covers much temporal and thematic ground. Focusing between Fall of 1859 and Summer of 1863, there are few aspects of the Civil War that Ayers fails to at least touch upon. He considers the events leading up to secession, cultural responses to the upcoming war, mobilization letters from the front, newspaper articles and personal recollections. In short, Ayers has captured the Civil War from the perspectives of two counties that remained geographically close while not necessarily ideologically in step. Ayers assumes a unique position to make such a comparison between these two counties. His methodology relies on a giant archive amassed by him and colleagues at the University of Virginia. In fact, the Valley of the Shadow online archive of Civil War documents exclusively comprises the sources from which Ayers draws his conclusions. This approach makes Ayers’ book a remarkable contribution to the historiography of the Civil War: it unmasks the authority of historians by making the primary documents from which conclusions are drawn no more than a mouse-click away. Put simply, the easy accessibility of primary documents makes In the Presence of Mine Enemies an interesting historical read from which young historians could learn much about the use of primary source documents. More advanced scholars, however, may find drawbacks to this type of approach. First, Ayers seems so fixated on revealing the nuances of local life and opinion in his study that he leaves little (if any) room for critical analysis most historians require. Second, some scholars might take issue with Ayers “voice over” approach to chapters, one in which he concludes sections with italicized syntheses of that section’s collection of stories. Academics might take issue with this approach because Ayers draws wide reaching conclusions about how people viewed the Civil War from the collections of only two counties in an arguably similar geographic region. For instance, Ayers’ analysis says little about perceptions of the war in the Deep South, or in industrial New England. Also, this book’s clean and direct prose and propensity of pictures makes it ideal for lay readers, or perhaps this is a work intended to inspire undergraduates about the historical process. But Ayers draws such sweeping conclusions from the collections of only two counties, which is exactly what historians should not practice in their scholarship. If readers address the book on its own terms—namely, as an innovative and beautifully written work that compares the lives and opinions of two counties during the Civil War—it is a success. In the case study of two counties in Virginia and Pennsylvania, Ayers theme of contingency seems apparent from page 1, and he should convince readers that perhaps the Civil War need not have gone any sort of “natural” course. Yet, Ayers omissions of greater historical movements—such as the market revolution, the impact of liability litigation on American worldviews of labor, the rise of northern industrialism, westward expansion, and northern economic dominance (just to name a few examples)—makes this history of the Civil War incomplete at best. Luckily, Ayers plans on addressing life after the Civil war in these counties in his next project. Hopefully, his analysis will touch upon the issue of racism, as well as the before-mentioned omissions, in his second act.

  • Terri
    2019-06-05 22:14

    The author was one of my professors at UVA. This book is absolutely wonderful and details the Civil war from both the South's and North's perspective. The book reads more like a story than a history lesson (even though I thoroughly enjoy both!)

  • Nathan Albright
    2019-06-10 23:06

    Although I have some questions about the author's framing of his narrative, which stops abruptly just before the Battle of Gettysburg, overall I would say that this is a very good book.  There is a lot that is notable and worthwhile about this book in terms of the way it looks at the effect of the war on the common people of the United States through a microhistorical look at Augusta County in Virginia (home of Staunton) and Franklin County in Pennsylvania (where Chambersburg is located).  The author has a particular strong view of the hatred that the Civil War inspired between what would have otherwise been fairly close neighbors [1] under normal circumstances.  It just so happens that they were on different sides of a border, and for all of their similarities, the presence or absence of slavery as a key element of their socioeconomic system made a big difference.  The author manages to subtly critique the effects of slavery on the South while also showing himself to be a brave defender of the military prowess of Confederates, especially at the beginning of the war.  This point is worth coming back to.The book is organized in a very interesting way, with six parts covering the period between 1859 and 1863 with titles taken from the six verses of Psalm 23.  Switching back and forth between the fractious politics of the border North and the border South, in the main the author appears to want to draw parallels between the two sections and to show how both areas were radicalized by the war and its progress, and how both expressed their uncertainty and opposition to what was going on in the national government.  The author shows a deep understanding of the primary documentation of the two counties being investigated, in newspaper editorials and letters and diaries and census data and the like, but sometimes the author appears to get bogged down in the details and is unable to draw wide enough conclusions.  Sometimes he is so intent on showing the specific bits of information that he neglects the importance of looking at the broader scope of the war.  Having a knowledge of the local and narrow history does not deny the existence of broader trends and conclusions, after all.In reading this book, I was struck by how detailed the book was about the beginning of the Civil War, and how long unionism lasted in Augusta County, for example, and yet how abruptly the book ended between Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.  There seems to be a good reason for it, though.  The author is a historian of the New South, and seems to have a certain amount of patriotism for the South.  In his desire to paint Augusta as the equal of Franklin county, despite the fact that it was economically inferior, the author stops at the high point of the Confederacy, not reflecting on the losses that Gettysburg inflicted on the area, and certainly not wanting to continue through the destructive campaign of 1864 and the final defeat of the Confederacy in 1865.  Apparently even 150 years after the end of the Civil War, such matters are too difficult for a patriotic son of the south to squarely face in his own historical writings.  I find this to be of great interest, because it suggests that the author wishes not to expose his own bias or subject his own beloved region to an analysis that would only bring to light its degradation in the light of its folly for rebellion, just as Unionists at the beginning of the Civil War pointed out.  Even when one's prophecies are right, sometimes it is too difficult for others to admit it.[1] See, for example:

  • Liam
    2019-05-20 16:53

    "Simple explanations, stark opposites, sweeping generalizations, and unfolding inevitabilities always tempt us, but they miss the essence of the story, and essence found in the deep contingency of history. To emphasize deep contingency is not to emphasize mere change, all to obvious in a war, but rather the dense and intricate connections in which lives and events are embedded." (xix)"In their [the unionists'] eyes, the politics of grievance was the politics of fools and madmen, people who could not tolerate the ambiguity of the world, the complexity of history, or the tangle of human motivation." (92)"Many Northerners had felt certain that nonslaveholders would vote against secession, would resist serving in the army, and would love the Union more than the Confederacy. At every step the North had been wrong. Many white Southerners had felt certain that Northern workingmen and immigrants would rebel against the capitalists and the abolitionists the Southerners blamed for starting the war. That too had been wrong." (233)"The same sense of moral and material superiority emanated from the northern interaction with Confederate prisoners. ... A nagging question haunted, though: How could such people be defeating us?" (274-5)"'[T]hey have been so often whipped that they always begin half whipped, and give up at light reverses'" (quoting Jedadiah Hotchkiss, 380)

  • John
    2019-06-03 17:14

    I really enjoyed this. One of the things that I always wanted to know about the Civil War was how exactly secession happened in places like Virginia and North Carolina...the northern parts of the south. Because these states didn't secede right away. The deep south seceded and then Virginia argued about it for a while, and that arguing period interested me. And that, really, is the point of this book. Ayers structures the book around a county in Virginia and a county in Pennsylvania, only a couple hundred miles from each other. What he puts together is a social history of the coming of war, basically, a history from the ground up - he looks at newspapers, diaries, letters, speeches, all sorts of sources. The book is about did this war that no one seemed to want become a war that everyone was invested in fighting? How did pro-Union people in the south become such vehement Confederates, and how did northerners who were initially comfortable with slavery come to decide that the war SHOULD end slavery after all? Ayers does a really nice job tying all these people together, and it seems all the more impressive if you go to the valley of the shadow project website and read some of the primary sources yourself. This project was set up online in conjunction with this book, and you can read a ton of these sources on the website, as they have been digitized. Ayers had a lot of material to work with, but he keeps the narrative humming and all the gears spinning. I would recommend this to people who want to know more about the Civil War but don't know what to read because there are so many books about every aspect of the war by amateur historians, and a lot of them (not all, but a lot) are not very good. This is a good one.

  • Mike Rogers
    2019-06-14 20:48

    In his book "In the Presence of Mine Enemies", Edward Ayers takes two typical counties during the Civil War, one from the South and one from the North, and compares and contrasts them. In the early 90's, Ayers started the "Valley of the Shadow" project. After choosing two counties linked by the Shenandoah Valley, Franklin to the north of the Mason-Dixon line and Augusta to the south, Ayers obtained relevant documents from both counties during the Civil War period, transcribed them with the help of an army of UVA students, and put them all on the internet. The project alone is remarkable, and has become a valuable online resource for the war, but Ayers went a step further. He dug through the collection that he himself created and used selected resources to write a history that compares and contrasts the counties. His results in some cases are typical and fit the stereotypes for each side, but they are simply astonishing in others. What is most noticeable in the end is that the two counties weren't all that different at the start of the war, and both became almost completely devoted to the side they were fighting for.Ayers has written a book that successfully uses micro-history to tell the reader about individual people and events while maintaining the wider context and relevance to the Civil War period as a whole. With "In the Presence of Mine Enemies" Ayers has made a valuable and lasting contribution to Civil War scholarship.

  • Melanie
    2019-06-13 00:10

    In Edward Ayers book, In the Presence of Mine Enemies, he closely examines two different towns; Chambersburg, PA and Staunton, VA. The first half of his book follows the build up to the election of 1860 through the response to Fort Sumter and Presidents Lincoln’s call for troops. This book was interesting because it was able to examine the awkward position the border states were put into while the other books I have read have only made passing references to their predicament. It was interesting to see the problems both towns had in common such as having Unionists and Democrats in the same town. It was also interesting to read how things could have been different. For example, Ayers suggests that Virginia could have been a Union state if the pro-confederates had pushed them harder at the beginning. It made me wonder what might have been different in the Civil War if the border had been farther south. Ayers seems to want to make a few points in his book. One of these is that the war was not inevitable. There were many points throughout the war in which they thought it was going to end soon. It would have only taken changing a few key details around important battles for the course of the war to have gone down a different path. Ayers also wants to make it clear how involved these communities were in the war. In addition to sending men out to fight in the war, these were the communities which took in the wounded from the nearby battlefields.

  • Ted Hunt
    2019-05-24 20:54

    Does one get the essence of a tapestry by looking at it from across the room or by examining it up close? This engrossing examination of the Civil War era (1859-1863) takes the second approach. It looks at the events of those years by examining mountains of primary source material from two American counties a hundred mile.s apart: Augusta country of Virginia and Franklin county of Pennsylvania. It looks at the events of secession and the early years of the Civil War through the eyes of the people of those places: their letters, diaries, newspapers, etc. And its thesis is the one that I heard Dr. Ayers convey at a conference that I attended at his own University of Richmond- that the key issue that caused secession and led to the intensity of the fighting was the profound difference of opinion about the issue of slavery. Needless to say, he is very convincing in conveying this message. I did not give the book a fifth star because it ended with the first sounds of gunfire at Gettysburg, an event that no doubt was enormously meaningful to the people of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, who are some of the main protagonists of the book. Dr. Ayers maintains that his day job as the U/R President has kept him from writing the sequel, but pressure needs to be applied until he does just that.

  • Maria
    2019-06-04 18:03

    If you like your history stuffed full of original sources, crammed with quotations and high on methodical historic research have I got a book for you. While digitizing manuscript materials for the University of Virginia, Edward Ayer, compiled this book which looks deeply at the two counties of Augusta, Virginia and Franklin, Pennsylvania which share the Shenandoah Valley, but are divided by the Mason-Dixon line.Through journals, letters and newspapers, Ayer traced the emergence of the pride, hate and conflict that became the Civil War. These two counties were some of the last to actively seek for war but were some of the first to see the consequences of battle. Hyperbole was one of the favorite literary devices of the time and it shows in the quotes that Ayer chose. This is not a sweeping history of the war, but a look at how individuals and communities responded to the events that lead to, created and were a result of the South's secession.My biggest complaint with this book is that it stops right before the battle of Gettysburg... you know the one battle of the Civil War that I knew about.

  • James
    2019-05-19 23:52

    An unusual approach to the history of the Civil War. Ayers looks in detail at two counties in the "Great valley" of the United States, Augusta County VA (biggest town: Staunton) and Franklin County PA (biggest town: Chambersburg) from 1859 to the eve of Gettysburg in the summer of 1863. The method is to quote liberally and at length from primary sources, principally letters and newspapers, with very little context. It would be baffling to someone without a good background in the history of the war, but for me it was a fresh and absorbing read.

  • Abraham
    2019-05-18 23:47

    Ayers constructs a tremendous history of two towns, one in Pennsylvania, one in Virginia, along the Shenandoah Valley, during the U.S. Civil War. This monograph evolved out of The Valley of the Shadow Project at the University of Virginia, where Ayers held leadership positions. What makes this history impressive is that Ayers interweaves his own commentary with eloquent prose that draws the reader into the live of mid-nineteenth century American landscape.

  • Rebecca
    2019-05-27 21:50

    In the Presence of Mine Enemies by Edward L. Ayers tells the story of the Civil War not as we usually hear it, from generals and presidents. Instead, he follows the experiences of Franklin county in Pennsylvania and Augusta county in Virginia. It makes the war more personal, as he shows how North and South begin to hate each other, and the dead as not statistics but as obituaries in their local newspaper. My only complaint is that the book ends in 1863, before the battle of Gettysburg. It makes the story seem half-finished.

  • Jordan
    2019-06-15 21:14

    Very interesting read. Great insight into the mindset of the nation by focusing on two border counties in both Virginia and Pennsylvania. Packed with information, this book does a wonderful job of showing how close and how far the North and the South came on a plethora of topics and issues. I highly recommend this book.Only reason it didn't get 5 stars is that I had to read it in 4 days in order to write a paper on time. So as much as I love it, I still have some angst towards it because of the constrained time in which to read it.

  • Bev Murphy
    2019-05-24 23:00

    This book offers a slightly different viewpoint of the Civil War. I felt it was more from the southern perspective, unlike most that I've read with a northern sympathy. It compared how the war affected 2 counties, one from the north and one from the south between the years 1859 and 1863. It was more detailed in war technicalities than what I had thought it would be. I would've like more stories about the people and how it affected them personally. Over all I enjoyed the book.

  • Don
    2019-05-29 17:58

    The Civil War emerges and begins in this great read. Ayers uses a focus on Franklin County, PA and Augusta County, VA, to portray the evolution of political positions as the election of 1860 approached, Lincoln's presidency began, and the war began.

  • George
    2019-06-14 21:52

    Fascinating look at how the coming of the Civil War affected the lives of the citizens of two neighboring counties - one in southern PA, the other in northern VA

  • Lobke Minter
    2019-05-21 16:11

    An insightful personal look at the American Civil War - even though this is definitely not a light read, it does shed some light onto some of the more poignant and complex aspects of the war.

  • Jeff
    2019-06-03 20:01

    Fascinating compare/contrast between two areas I've hiked through - Franklin County in Southern PA and Augusta Co. in Central VA. It makes me want to read more "homefront" books.