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Mennonites, Amish, and the American Civil War

, 376 pages

24 b&w photos, 6 maps

October 2007


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Mennonites, Amish, and the American Civil War

During the American Civil War, the Mennonites and Amish faced moral dilemmas that tested the very core of their faith. How could they oppose both slavery and the war to end it? How could they remain outside the conflict without entering the American mainstream to secure legal conscientious objector status? In the North, living this ethical paradox marked them as ambivalent participants to the Union cause; in the South, it marked them as clear traitors.

In the first scholarly treatment of pacifism during the Civil War, two experts in Anabaptist studies explore the important role of sectarian religion in the conflict and the effects of wartime Americanization on these religious communities. James O. Lehman and Steven M. Nolt describe the various strategies used by religious groups who struggled to come to terms with the American mainstream without sacrificing religious values—some opted for greater political engagement, others chose apolitical withdrawal, and some individuals renounced their faith and entered the fight.

Integrating the most recent Civil War scholarship with little-known primary sources and new information from Pennsylvania and Virginia to Illinois and Iowa, Lehman and Nolt provide the definitive account of the Anabaptist experience during the bloodiest war in American history.

James O. Lehman is director emeritus of libraries at Eastern Mennonite University and an archivist for the Virginia Mennonite Conference. He is the author of several books, most recently A Century of Grace: In the Community and around the World. Steven M. Nolt is a professor of history at Goshen College and coauthor of Amish Enterprise: From Plows to Profits and Plain Diversity: Amish Cultures and Identities, both published by Johns Hopkins.

"I found this book fascinating. It is an easy read, with lots of arresting stories of faith under test. Its amazingly thorough research, which comes through on every page, makes the book convincing."

" Mennonites, Amish, and the American Civil War is well worth exploring."

"Fascinating even to the lay reader."

"A valuable book that gives Brethren a source to turn to when considering the experiences of our own spiritual ancestors."

"Enriches our understanding of the impact of the Civil War on Mennonites and Amish, and on American religious groups in general. In addition, the authors have enhanced our knowledge of the influence that religion had on the war."

"By highlighting the struggles of these religious outsiders who strived to keep the church distinct from the world, Lehman and Nolt have produced an insightful study that further elucidates the centrality of religion for a proper understanding of the Civil War."

"Civil War scholars can learn much from this book."

"In this well-written and researched volume, Lehman and Nolt offer a much-needed analysis of the Mennonite and Amish experience of the Civil War."

" Mennonites, Amish, and the American Civil War is solid... the research is meticulous and admirable."

" Mennonites, Amish, and the American Civil War should attract the attention of both serious religious scholars and anyone else interested in gaining a better understanding of the Anabaptists' wartime experience."

"Lehman and Nolt have produced a valuable study that reminds scholars of, and would demonstrate for students of the Civil War or religious history, the religious pluralism in the nation and, to a lesser degree, in the South."

"An impressive work in every way: gracefully written, broadly researched, careful and measured in its conclusions. It is likely to become the definitive work on its subject."

"In this fascinating study, Lehman and Nolt perform a miraculous feat: they find a small unexplored backwater in the immense sea of literature on the American Civil War."

"A fascinating book... wonderfully written, flows well and offers fresh information and a new perspective on the home front in the Civil War that is rarely (if ever) covered in other works."

"Without question, this work by Lehman and Nolt should be on the bookshelf of anyone interested in 'peace churches,' or pacifists, regardless of the time period."

"The first serious, comprehensive study of this important and neglected subject. A well researched and carefully argued treatment that reminds us that not all churches fell into lockstep support for either the Union or the Confederacy."

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