Book Review: Armies of Deliverance

Armies of Deliverance by Elizabeth R. Varon provides a sweeping, comprehensive, and eminently readable introduction to the U.S. Civil War. Recently published by Oxford University Press in 2021, Varon’s bold yet unassuming 531-page scholarly tome is no endless catalog of facts and opinions. On the contrary, it is a solid analysis of the fluid and evolving rationales for the war from the perspectives of the people who lived through it.

Notably, Armies of Deliverance chronicles a new history of the Civil War without neglecting military strategy and tactics. (Varon’s exploration of the war’s meaning is very helpful to bicyclists who are in the planning stages of a bike tour. It gives us something substantive to think about between battlefield stops, where we would read about battlefield events.)

Unique among a vast number of Civil War books, Armies of Deliverance unfurls a fascinating political and cultural history. Moreover, its thematic approach will appeal to undergraduate college students and history buffs. And at least for this reader, the book offers a refreshingly clear thesis that the author develops logically using primary source material.

As the story unfolds, Varon regularly revisits the question of how two governments, acting as two sets of armies, expressed their changing and multi-faceted reasons for executing the war. Armies of Deliverance includes a helpful U.S. Civil War timeline, a short glossary, several black-and-white maps, portrait photographs, and period sketches. Like all scholarly publications, Varon also includes sections for a bibliography, endnotes, and index.

Because the book does not focus predominantly on military battlefield history, Varon’s book is a welcome complement to James M. McPherson’s perennial classic, Battle Cry of Freedom. In summary, Armies of Deliverance is my new favorite one-volume history of four catastrophically divisive years in American history.

Getting your hands on Armies of Deliverance

You can purchase Armies of Deliverance: A New History of the Civil War from this Amazon (paid) link. Note: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

The Civil War Cycling website has a short list of recommended books on the U.S. Civil War, here. Alternatively, a lengthy annotated bibliography specific to the Battle of Gettysburg is available at this link. For the Battle of Antietam, click here.