“The Civil War was a revolution in many ways,” writes Benjamin Quarles in this renowned work. “But on one point there is common agreement: without slavery there would have been no resort to arms. Hence the slave was the key factor in the war. But the Negro’s tale was not merely a passive one; he did not tarry in the wings, hands folded. He was an active member of the cast, prominent in the dramatis personae. To him freedom was a two-way street; indeed he gave prior to receiving.”

Quarles writes powerfully about the role of three-and-a-half million blacks in the South, who were impressed into non-combatant service–building forts and entrenchments, working in factories and mines. In the North, black Americans fought with distinction on the front lines, shedding blood for an ideal–emancipation–that was cruelly betrayed during Reconstruction. The story of black Americans in the Civil War, in which they, in more ways than one, stood in the middle, was largely untold until this book by a distinguished scholar offered the wisdom and verve to make a great episode in our history come alive.