When it was published, in 1988, it would was one of the early studies of the "plain folk's" perceptions of the era in which they lived. To get at the heart of the matter that the author was examining Jimerson consulted multitudes of letters and diaries from people at almost all segments of society and military ranks. However, as the author admits, due to the book's focus on sectional consciousness, these accounts do not include African American individuals' views. Jimerson explains that could be best done in a separate work.
The book covers four broad themes from both Northern and Southern perspectives over six chapters. First, Jimerson covers what the war meant to individuals, both soldiers and civilians, men and women, and why they decided to fight or sympathize with one side or the other. The second theme covered is the effect that the war had on racial attitudes and how African American roles changed in society during the war. While these views of African Americans came only from white citizens, they are quite insightful. The third theme that was covered, and what was probably my favorite, was a look at how Northerners and Southerners perceived each other. These views about the differences in sectional attitudes came not only from living in a slavery society versus living in a free labor society, but also from differences in culture and history. Finally, Jimerson examines wartime divisions within each society. For example, in the South, conscription divided the Confederacy along class lines, while in the North, Peace Democrats divided opinions on prosecuting the war.
As one can image the range of opinions varied widely, which only proves that the Civil War was as complicated (if not more so) asany war in America's experience.
On a scale of 1 to 5, I give The Private Civil War a 5.