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Thunder at the gates : the black Civil War regiments that redeemed America
2016
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Illuminates the public responses, debates and dangers that shaped the entry of black regiments into the Civil War after the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, chronicling the formation and battlefield triumphs of key regiments while discussing their role in shaping public opinion and promoting full citizenship for blacks. 25,000 first printing. - (Baker & Taylor)

Illuminates the public responses, debates, and dangers that shaped the entry of black regiments into the Civil War after the Emancipation Proclamation, chronicling the formation and battlefield triumphs of key regiments. - (Baker & Taylor)

Co-winner of the 2017 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize

An intimate, authoritative history of the first black soldiers to fight in the Union Army during the Civil War

Soon after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, abolitionists began to call for the creation of black regiments. At first, the South and most of the North responded with outrage-southerners promised to execute any black soldiers captured in battle, while many northerners claimed that blacks lacked the necessary courage. Meanwhile, Massachusetts, long the center of abolitionist fervor, launched one of the greatest experiments in American history.

In Thunder at the Gates, Douglas Egerton chronicles the formation and battlefield triumphs of the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Infantry and the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry-regiments led by whites but composed of black men born free or into slavery. He argues that the most important battles of all were won on the field of public opinion, for in fighting with distinction the regiments realized the long-derided idea of full and equal citizenship for blacks.

A stirring evocation of this transformative episode, Thunder at the Gates offers a riveting new perspective on the Civil War and its legacy.
- (Perseus Publishing)

Author Biography

Douglas T. Egerton is the Merrill Family Visiting Professor in History at Cornell University and a professor of history at Le Moyne College. The award-winning author of seven previous books, he lives in Fayetteville, New York. - (Perseus Publishing)

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Booklist Reviews

The 1989 film, Glory, brought long overdue attention to the contributions of African American regiments to Union victory in the Civil War. That mildly fictionalized film concentrated on the 54th Massachusetts infantry regiment and its white commander, Robert Gould Shaw. Egerton (Year of Meteors, 2010) has written a more factual, broader, and nuanced account of the service of black Civil War regiments. His account includes the formation and activities of Shaw's troops along with those of the 55th infantry, the 5th cavalry, and other units. Like Shaw's, those units were overseen by white officers, and some were not particularly enthusiastic about leading black soldiers. The feeling that blacks lacked the courage and discipline to fight was widespread. Egerton strongly emphasizes the racism black soldiers faced from within their own ranks, which made their bravery under fire even more inspiring. Of course, as Egerton reminds us, they were fighting for themselves and the freedom of other African Americans, not to preserve the Union. This is a brutally honest, comprehensive account of their contributions and an excellent addition to Civil War collections. Copyright 2016 Booklist Reviews.

Library Journal Reviews

Egerton (Merrill Family Visiting Professor in History, Cornell Univ.; The Wars of Reconstruction) presents a captivating narrative of 14 men who served with the 54th and 55th Massachusetts infantry and the 5th Massachusetts cavalry. Four white officers commanded the regiments, all wealthy and well-educated men, including Robert Gould Shaw and Charles Francis Adams Jr. At the center of this volume's biographical portrait are African Americans from a variety of backgrounds who sought to end slavery: escaped slave William Carney, former schoolteachers Nicolas Said and James Trotter, and seamen Henry Jarvis and James Gooding. Egerton details the regiments' training and their participation in battles at Fort Wagner, SC, and their participation in the occupation of Charleston, SC, at the conclusion of the Civil War. The men proved their worth as disciplined soldiers and helped focus the nation's attention on freedom and equal rights for African Americans. VERDICT Egerton's study of the individuals and attention to their lives after the war is extremely well researched and well documented. This is an important addition to the shelves of Civil War books.—Patricia Ann Owens, formerly with Illinois Eastern Community Colls., Mt. Carmel. Copyright 2016 Library Journal.

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