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Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide.

Print Price: $56.00

336 pp.
20 halftones, 6.125" x 9.25"


Publication date:
October 2018

Imprint: OUP US

Looming Civil War

How Nineteenth-Century Americans Imagined the Future

Jason Phillips

How did Americans imagine the Civil War before it happened? The most anticipated event of the nineteenth century appeared in novels, prophecies, dreams, diaries, speeches, and newspapers decades before the first shots at Fort Sumter. People forecasted a frontier filibuster, an economic clash between free and slave labor, a race war, a revolution, a war for liberation, and Armageddon. Reading their premonitions reveals how several factors, including race, religion, age, gender, region, and class shaped what people thought about the future and how they imagined it. Some Americans pictured the future as an open, contested era that they progressed toward and molded with their thoughts and actions. Others saw the future as a closed, predetermined world that approached them and sealed their fate. When the war began, these opposing temporalities informed how Americans grasped and waged the conflict.

In this creative history, Jason Phillips explains how the expectations of a host of characters - generals, politicians, radicals, citizens, and slaves - affected how people understood the unfolding drama and acted when the future became present. He reconsiders the war's origins without looking at sources using hindsight, that is, without considering what caused the cataclysm and whether it was inevitable. As a result, Phillips dispels a popular myth that all Americans thought the Civil War would be short and glorious at the outset, a ninety-day affair full of fun and adventure. Much more than rational power games played by elites, the war was shaped by uncertainties and emotions and darkened horizons that changed over time.

Looming Civil War highlights how individuals approached an ominous future with feelings, thoughts, and perspectives different from our sensibilities and unconnected to our view of their world. Civil War Americans had their own prospects to ponder and forge as they discovered who they were and where life would lead them. The Civil War changed more than America's future; it transformed how Americans imagined the future and how Americans have thought about the future ever since.

Readership : Suitable for general readers, scholars, and students interested in Civil War history, Southern history, American Culture, 19th Century America, Intellectual History.

Prologue: Looming
1. Horizons
2. Speculations
3. Rumors
4. Prophecies
5. Anticipations
6. Expectations
Epilogue: Shadows

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Jason Phillips is the Eberly Family Professor of Civil War Studies in the Department of History at West Virginia University. He is the author of Diehard Rebels: The Confederate Culture of Invincibility and the editor of Storytelling, History, and the Postmodern South.

Writing History - William Kelleher Storey and Towser Jones
Fateful Lightning - Allen C. Guelzo
The Smell of Battle, the Taste of Siege - Mark M. Smith

Special Features

  • Introduces the history of the future as a new field of study and showcases diverse ways to practice this new approach to the past.
  • Debunks the short war myth, the popular notion that all Americans looked forward to a short, romantic Civil War at the outset.
  • Relies upon the perspectives of elites and ordinary Americans, North and South, men and women, free and enslaved, religious and nonreligious.
  • Explains how the nation's greatest crisis transformed these understandings of time that continue to frame American views of the future.
  • Features objects of material culture and their symbolic meaning to nineteenth-century Americans.