In the Presence of Mine Enemies

In the Presence of Mine Enemies: War in the Heart of America, 1859-1863 examines a microcosm of the Civil War. The book is part of the Valley of the Shadow Project, which consists of documentation of the Civil War in two counties—in the North Franklin, Pennsylvania, and in the South Augusta, Virginia. Edward L. Ayers provides a detailed look at the residents, white and black, of these two counties and how the events of the time affected their lives.

The book reveals the similarities and differences between the two regions including lifestyles, opinions, politics, and their understanding of the ensuing conflict. Interestingly, Augusta did not rush into secession. Much like their neighbors to the North, many of her citizens wanted to preserve the Union. Ultimately, the debate between Democrats and Republicans was reduced to the issue of slavery and both counties found themselves pitted against each other in many of the major battles in the early years of the war.

The overall structure of the book fits the cadences of the Twenty-third Psalm—a fitting pattern since both sides invoked God to grant them victory. The fascinating details weave together letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, and other historical material to give the reader insight into the circumstances that swept over these people.

Military strategy and the role of the enlisted citizens make the details of the Civil War more personal as residents serve with “Stonewall” Jackson and Robert E. Lee or George McClellan and Joseph Hooker. Personal accounts achieve poignancy through Northern and Southern perspectives of each major battle and the losses incurred by each county. In the Presence of Mine Enemies offers a refreshing re-examination of the war that ripped America apart.