Naturally, my curiosity was peaked when I started seeing the reviews and comments, so I ordered a copy and made a quick read of it, which wasn't difficult in that, as with most of Gallagher's books, it is well written, and this one was relatively short (162 pages of text).
Here is the work's description that the book jacket provides:
"Even one hundred and fifty years later, we are haunted by the Civil War - by its division, its bloodshed, and perhaps, above all, by its origins. Today, many believe that the war was fought over slavery. This answer satisfies our contemporary sense of justice, but as Gary Gallagher shows in this brilliant revisionist history, it is an anachronistic judgement.
In a searing analysis of the Civil War North as revealed in contemporary letters, diaries, and documents, Gallagher demonstrates that what motivated the North to go to war and persist in an increasingly bloody effort was primarily preservation of the Union. Devotion to the Union bonded nineteenth-century Americans in the North and West against the slaveholding aristocracy in the South and a Europe that seemed destined for oligarchy. Northerners believed they were fighting to save the republic, and with it the world's best hope for democracy.
Once we understand the centrality of union, we can in turn appreciate the force that made northern victory possible: the citizen-soldier. Gallagher reveals how the massive volunteer army of the North fought to confirm American exceptionalism by salvaging the Union. Contemporary concerns have distorted the reality of nineteenth-century Americans, who embraced emancipation primarily to punish secessionists and remove slavery as a future threat to union - goals that emerged in the process of war. As Gallagher recovers why and how the Civil War was fought, we gain a more honest understanding of why and how it was won."
First, let me say that I think Gallagher is largely spot-on. Numerous relatively recent histories place emancipation as a motivation for the North fighting the war primary to union. I think to do this, is like Gallagher explains, anachronistic. Union was such a strong idea to most of the people of the United States before the war that the firing on Fort Sumter didn't cause the remaining four states to break away and join the Confederacy; it took Lincoln's call for 75,000 northern volunteers, and thus an expected invasion of the South by federal troops for Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee to sever their cherished bonds of union. And, still after secession, many people in those four states remained sympathetic to the Union cause.
The ideal that the Union offered to Northerners and the Border States brought forth a type of jihad - if that is not too strong of a word - that would not be complete until the Union was restored. The North was going to do everything it had to do in order to keep the country from splitting, and it had the men and means to do it.
All of this is not to say that slavery wasn't the precipitating factor that caused the war. The southern states seceded because they felt threated by a Republican president and thought their best chances of preserving the institution that was the backbone of their society and economy was to leave the Union. If the South had not seceded then the North would not have had reason to fight to keep the Union together; thus no war. It is my opinion that the majority of northern soldiers had little interest in ending slavery other than as a means of helping the Union win the war and restore the Union.
Where I think Gallagher maybe missed in his interpretation (unless I missed it) is at least mentioning that African Americans were active agents in causing the war. Largely it was not the slaves from the states that first seceded who ran away in the antebellum years, but rather those from the slave states that seceded last or not at all (Border States). But it was those Deep South states that cried foul when runaways were not returned, or when caught, put up a fight. Most of the famous rescues and publicized runaway episodes such as Anthony Burns (Virginia), Henry Box Brown (Virginia), John Price (Kentucky), Margaret Garner (Kentucky), Jermain Loguen (Tennessee), the Cynthiana Riot (Maryland), as well as the famous Frederick Douglass (Maryland), came from the upper-South states. But, it was South Carolina, Mississippi and others of the Deep South that claimed that the North was not holding up their part of the Constitution by returning fugitive slaves as a significant reason for breaking the bonds of union. So, in my opinion, the runaway African American slave was an active agent in bringing on the war, and thus an active agent in restoring the Union and ending his bondage.