About the Book

Amid the devastation of war rise the first stirrings of freedom in this absorbing, ground-level narrative by an acclaimed historian.

Virginia's Great Valley, prosperous in peace with a rich soil and an enslaved workforce, invited destruction in war. Voracious Union and Confederate armies ground up the valley, consuming crops, livestock, fences, and human life. Pitched battles at Gettysburg, Lynchburg, and Cedar Creek punctuated a cycle of vicious attacks and reprisals in which armies burned whole towns for retribution.

North of the Mason-Dixon line, in the Pennsylvania portion of the valley, free black families sent husbands and sons to fight with the U.S. Colored Troops. In letters home, even as Lincoln commemorated the dead at Gettysburg, they spoke movingly of a war for emancipation. As defeat and the end of slavery descended on Virginia, with the political drama of Reconstruction unfolding in Washington, the crowded classrooms of the Freedmen's Bureau schools spoke of a new society struggling to emerge. Here is history at its best: powerful, insightful, grounded in human detail.

30 illustrations; 10 maps



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