Civil War battles invite vivid storytelling. Sagas of courageous soldiers, of colorful generals, of bloody combat, with a nation's fate at stake—here is stuff for riveting epics. Yet battlefield tales alone cannot solve even the main military puzzle, why the Confederacy lost the Civil War. A satisfying Civil War narrative must also illuminate the home front. Events beyond the battlefields partially determined military verdicts. Furthermore, home front and battlefront, when their stories become intertwined, unveil defining aspects of Civil War America, beyond the soldiers' ordeals.
Work on my two-volume history of the Old South, The Road to Disunion, compelled these thoughts, for my designated home-front road continued after disunion. Divisions within the South helped pave the path toward war. The same divisions behind army lines helped turn the war against the slaveholders. That wartime epilogue adds depth and credibility to my prewar story. Before the Civil War, a showdown between Southerners remained largely a potentiality, a possible rift that key folk feared might be fatal. During the Civil War, the potential became actual, unmistakably demonstrating