The Dogs of War, 1861

The Dogs of War, 1861

The Dogs of War, 1861

The Dogs of War, 1861


In 1861, Americans thought that the war looming on their horizon would be brief. None foresaw that they were embarking on our nation's worst calamity, a four-year bloodbath that cost the lives of more than half a million people. But as eminent Civil War historian Emory Thomas points out in this stimulating and provocative book, once the dogs of war are unleashed, it is almost impossible to rein them in.
In The Dogs of War, Thomas highlights the delusions that dominated each side's thinking. Lincoln believed that most Southerners loved the Union, and would be dragged unwillingly into secession by the planter class. Jefferson Davis could not quite believe that Northern resolve would survive the first battle. Once the Yankees witnessed Southern determination, he hoped, they would acknowledge Confederate independence. These two leaders, in turn, reflected widely held myths. Thomas weaves his exploration of these misconceptions into a tense narrative of the months leading up to the war, from the "Great Secession Winter" to a fast-paced account of the Fort Sumter crisis in 1861.
Emory M. Thomas's books demonstrate a breathtaking range of major Civil War scholarship, from The Confederacy as a Revolutionary Experienceand the landmark The Confederate Nation, to definitive biographies of Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart. In The Dogs of War, he draws upon his lifetime of study to offer a new perspective on the outbreak of our national Iliad.


THIS IS A “THINK BOOK”—THE product of reflecting upon the compelling drama surrounding the onset of the American Civil War. This is also a short book, a nonfiction novella, Clio laconic. I focus upon the critical events from the election of Abraham Lincoln to the opening battle at Bull Run/Manassas. Here is “revisionist history” in the sense that I ask new questions of essentially well-known facts.

It should come as no surprise that new questions provoke new answers. But my principal conclusion is yet another question: What were they thinking?

I know and insist here that issues about slavery and race inspired secessions among Southern states. Anyone who still doubts this truth should read Charles B. Dew’s Apostles of Disunion.

I contend here that the Civil War happened because nearly no one had a clue about what they were doing. Public and private discourse was loud and long and wrong about what might happen if war broke out. Americans on both sides of the Potomac and Ohio rivers seemed convinced that no war would occur, or that if secession indeed led to conflict, one battle or campaign would ensure victory for “our” side. Some people, mostly in the South, seemed to embrace war as an apocalyptic answer to the sectional quandary. Some people, principally in the North, believed that war would be “good for us.” But most people seemed to believe that war would never happen, or if it . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.