The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America

The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America

At the crux of America’s history stand two astounding events: the immediate and complete destruction of the most powerful system of slavery in the modern world, followed by a political reconstruction in which new constitutions established the fundamental rights of citizens for formerly enslaved people. Few people living in 1860 would have dared imagine either event, and yet, in retrospect, both seem to have been inevitable.


In a beautifully crafted narrative, Edward L. Ayers restores the drama of the unexpected to the history of the Civil War. From the same vantage point occupied by his unforgettable characters, Ayers captures the strategic savvy of Lee and his local lieutenants, and the clear vision of equal rights animating black troops from Pennsylvania. We see the war itself become a scourge to the Valley, its pitched battles punctuating a cycle of vicious attack and reprisal in which armies burned whole towns for retribution. In the weeks and months after emancipation, from the streets of Staunton, Virginia, we see black and white residents testing the limits of freedom as political leaders negotiate the terms of readmission to the Union. With analysis as powerful as its narrative, here is a landmark history of the Civil War.

Title:The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America
ISBN:9780393356434
Format Type:

    The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America Reviews

  • Christine

    Really good read. ...

  • Todd Stockslager

    Review title: In the Valley of the ShadowAyers has undertaken an approach to writing about the American Civil War that (surprisingly after so many words have been written about it) is unique and insig...

  • Stan  Prager

    Review of: The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America, by Edward L. Ayersby Stan Prager (3-24-19) When I was growing up in the 1960s, the Civil War was often du...

  • Christopher S.

    “The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America” by Edward L. Ayers is the follow up work to Ayers’ “In the Presence of Mine Enemies.” In this most recent ...

  • Fred Svoboda

    The real plus factor for this history of the valley from mid-war into Reconstruction is its access to a digital archive of letters, diaries and the like that allows Ayers to track and illustrate the a...

  • Ted Hunt

    This book is the second volume of a two book set about the Civil War that was based on the research that Edward Ayres did to put together the website "Valley of the Shadow" when he was teaching at the...

  • Erica

    This well-written narrative focuses on the counties of Augusta, Virginia and Franklin, Pennsylvania (both in the Shenandoah Valley but divided by the Mason-Dixon Line) from July 1863 through 1902. The...

  • Emily Purcell

    This book is an exceeding well documented look at two counties, separated by the border between the Union and the Confederacy during the civil war -- from the beginning of the war through reconstructi...

  • Ddoddmccue

    Two communities at the ends of the Shenandoah Valley, in Virginia and Pennsylvania, represent rich sources for two diverse perspectives of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Mining an impressive number...

  • Tom

    This book has two parts. The first deals with battles in the Civil War, focusing on Virginia and Pennsylvania. That part is not unlike other Civil War books. The second part is the interesting one. It...