Sunday, October 26, 2008

News---Five Best Civil War Books Not Related To A Battle

Five Best: James M. McPherson On Books About The Civil War Away From The Battlefield, Wall Street Journal, October 18-19, 2008.

1. This Republic of Suffering, Drew Gilpin Faust, Knopf, 2008.

No other generation of Americans encountered death on the scale of the Civil War generation. The 620,000 soldiers who died were 2% of the American population at that time; an equivalent death rate in a war fought today would leave six million Americans dead. How did people in both the North and South cope with this devastating toll? How did they mourn the dead, honor their sacrifice, commemorate their memory and help their families? Drew Gilpin Faust, the president of Harvard University, offers powerful and moving answers to these questions. During and after the war, the U.S. government created 72 national cemeteries for the reinterment of Union war dead with dignity and honor; many veterans of the nation's armed forces continue to find their final resting places in these cemeteries today.

2. Southern Lady, Yankee Spy , Elizabeth R. Varon, Oxford University, 2003.

Popular Civil War literature is filled with romantic and sensational stories of female spies, many of them made of whole cloth. But this story of Elizabeth Van Lew is eminently true. A member of a prominent Richmond family, she inherited her mother's antislavery convictions. She freed her own slaves before the war and purchased some of their relatives to free them. During the war Van Lew skillfully traded on her reputation for eccentricity (she was called "Crazy Bet") to get away with hiding escaped Union prisoners of war and providing Gen. Ulysses S. Grant with vital intelligence smuggled through the lines during the 1864-65 siege of Richmond.

3. Civil Wars , George C. Rable, University of Illinois, 1989.

Southern white women experienced the Civil War more directly and disastrously than any other group of civilians. In "Civil Wars," George C. Rable describes the hardships, caused by shortages of everything in the wartime South, endured by slave women as well as by white women. But slaves did win their freedom in the conflict, while white women -- of slaveholding and nonslaveholding classes alike -- lost almost everything. At least 75,000 of them were widowed by the war, their children left fatherless. Enthusiastic about the cause of Confederate independence early in the conflict, many of these women turned against the war amid mounting disease, malnutrition and economic destruction. Yet, ironically, Southern white women became the main custodians of the postwar Lost Cause romanticization of the Confederacy.

4. The Imagined Civil War, Alice Fahs, University of North Carolina, 2001.

In this sparkling study, Alice Fahs rescues from undeserved obscurity the vast outpouring of popular literature produced during the Civil War. Far from being the "unwritten war" described by literary historians, the conflict produced fiction, nonfiction and poetry that interpreted a people's war to the people. "Only weeks after the start of war in 1861," Fahs writes, "illustrated weeklies such as Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper began publishing columns labeled 'war humor,' 'war romance,' and 'thrilling incidents of the war.' " The most intriguing aspect of "The Imagined Civil War" is its discussion of magazine stories and books written for children, which not only shaped their perceptions of the earth-shaking events of their youth but also influenced their worldview as adults during the postwar era.

5. Team of Rivals , Doris Kearns Goodwin, Simon & Schuster, 2005.

The "rivals" in this gripping narrative of politics in Washington during the war are the four men who competed for the presidential nomination of the Republican Party in 1860: William H. Seward, the presumptive favorite; Salmon P. Chase, the most radical opponent of slavery in this antislavery party; Edward Bates, the most conservative; and Abraham Lincoln, who until his debates with Stephen Douglas in 1858 was the most obscure of the four. But because he could unite the party's factions, Lincoln won the nomination -- and the election. Fearing that Republican ascendancy spelled the ultimate doom of slavery, most slave states seceded and provoked war. Meanwhile Lincoln took the unprecedented step of appointing his rivals to key cabinet positions. The men differed on how to conduct the war, and several clashed personally, yet Lincoln forged them into an effective team that pulled together in the crisis.

Mr. McPherson is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom (1988). His latest book, Tried by War: Lincoln as Commander in Chief, has just been published by The Penguin Press.

Text Source: Wall Street Journal, October 18-19, 2008.

CWL: Can't complain; they're all on my bookshelf too.

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