How the Slaves Saw the Civil War
Recollections of the War through the WPA Slave Narratives
by Herbert C. Covey and Dwight Eisnach
January 2014, 270pp, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-2823-2
$65, £50, 57€, A90
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eBook Available: 978-1-4408-2824-9
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Some slaves felt compelled to support—and in some cases, fight for—the Confederacy.

Drawing from narratives of former slaves to provide accurate and poignant insights, this book presents descriptions in the former slaves' own words about their lives before, during, and following the Civil War.

Examining narratives allows us to better understand what life was truly like for slaves: “hearing” history in their own words brings the human aspects of slavery and their interpersonal relationships to life, providing insights and understanding not typically available via traditional history books. How the Slaves Saw the Civil War: Recollections of the War through the WPA Slave Narratives draws upon interviews collected largely during the 1930s–1940s as part of the Federal Writers Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

Because most slaves could not read or write, their perspective on the unfolding history of the war has been relatively unknown until these narratives were collected in the 1930s and 1940s. This book extracts the most cogent and compelling tales from the documentation of former slaves’ seldom-heard voices on the events leading up to, during, and following the war. The work’s two introductory chapters focus on the WPA’s narratives and living conditions under slavery. The remaining chapters address key topics such as slave loyalties to either or both sides of the conflict, key battles, participation in the Union and/or Confederate armies, the day Union forces came, slave contact with key historical figures, and emancipation—and what came after.


  • Supplies the actual words of former slaves used in the narratives, giving readers not only a better sense of the individuals' experiences but also of the oral tradition of African Americans during the Civil War period
  • Includes carefully selected images of the time to underscore key concepts in the narratives and historical events and to engage the reader
  • Provides an extensive bibliography of other reliable sources appropriate for further research by general readers, academics specializing in African American history, and Civil War buffs alike
Herbert C. Covey, PhD, is deputy director of human services for Adams County, Colorado, and part-time instructor at the University of Colorado—Boulder. His published works include Greenwood's What the Slaves Ate: Recollections of the American Foods and Foodways from the Slave Narratives (with Dwight A. Eisnach); Praeger's Helping People Addicted to Methamphetamine: A Creative New Approach for Families and Communities; and African American Slave Medicine: Herbal and Non-Herbal Treatments, among others.

Dwight A. Eisnach is an independent scholar, writer, and editor. He began his career as an investigative reporter and editor with newspapers in Wyoming and Minnesota, winning several national awards for reporting, including from the Associated Press. He later served the Colorado Department of Human Services for 27 years, successively as legislative liaison, public information officer, and administrator of the Colorado Juvenile Parole Board. His published works include Greenwood's What the Slaves Ate: Recollections of the American Foods and Foodways from the Slave Narratives (with Herbert C. Covey) and several contributions to ABC-CLIO's online curriculum The American Mosaic: The African American Experience. He has also edited the works of other authors, including for his coauthor Herbert C. Covey.


"By using the WPA ex-slave narratives to document how slaves experienced the Civil War, Covey and Eisnach fill a major historiographical void. Fully aware of the methodological weaknesses of using the 1930s and 1940s ex-slave interviews as sources, the authors nonetheless employ them judiciously to present the former slaves’ perceptions of the slaveholders’ war. They detail the daily lives of the bondsmen and women during and after the war, their service with Union and Confederate forces, and the blacks’ impressions of major southern and northern leaders. Specialists, students, and general readers will welcome this valuable work for the ex-slaves’ sometimes surprising and always interesting reactions to the Civil War and emancipation."—John David Smith, Charles H. Stone Distinguished Professor of American History, University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Author of Lincoln and the U.S. Colored Troops
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