April 9, 2009 by Reader's Connection
On April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant, bringing the American Civil War to a close. Their meeting occured in a home in the village of Appomattox Court House, Virginia; and the formal surrender took place at the courthouse on April 12.
144 years later, books on the Civil War keep appearing. Some reveal dimensions of which many readers were unaware–okay, dimensions of which I was unaware.
Reviews are available in our catalog for most of these books, and I encourage readers to click on the cover art or the titles, and then click on Reviews for alternative viewpoints. The Kirkus review of the first book, for example, is favorable, but thinks that Mr. Williams’s treatment is a bit too “Marxist-tinged.”
Bitterly Divided: The South’s Inner Civil War by David Williams
Williams marshals abundant evidence to demonstrate that the Confederacy also lost an internal civil war during 1861-65. Slaveholding planters had pushed secession against the wishes of the nonslaveholding majority of white Southerners, who were profoundly skeptical of slavery. Most Southerners looked on the conflict with the North as a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight, especially because owners of 20 or more slaves and all planters and public officials were exempt from military service. The planters’ continued raising of cotton and tobacco rather than food for the army; a military draft from 1862 on; skyrocketing taxes; the confiscation of nonplanters’ goods for the army–all these and more reinforced the class-based perception of the war. From the outset, desertion from the army was constant . . . Booklist
The Slaves’ War: The Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves by Andrew Ward
Even after the Emancipation Proclamation supposedly transformed the goals of the Civil War, many in the North were reluctant to wage war on behalf of the liberation of slaves. After the war, the nation was engulfed by the remembrances of Northerners and Southerners, almost exclusively white, who participated in the conflict. Ward, an award-winning author and commentator for NPR, has provided a unique and immensely valuable narrative that gives voice to the experiences and attitudes of slaves who endured the conflict. Ward utilizes testimonials, diaries, and letters, and organizes them in chronological order from the months before the commencement of hostilities to the aftermath of the surrender at Appomattox. These remembrances include impressions of slaves who witnessed John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry and the shelling of Fort Sumter. A Mississippi slave recalls the character of both Jefferson Davis and his wife. There are surprising accounts of the reaction of slaves to the invasion by Yankee “outsiders.” — Booklist
The State of Jones: The Small Southern County that Seceded from the Confederacy by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer (On Order)
The State of Jones is a true story about the South during the Civil War—the real South. Not the South that has been mythologized in novels and movies, but an authentic, hardscrabble place where poor men were forced to fight a rich man’s war for slavery and cotton. In Jones County, Mississippi, a farmer named Newton Knight led his neighbors, white and black alike, in an insurrection against the Confederacy at the height of the Civil War. Knight’s life story mirrors the little-known story of class struggle in the South—and it shatters the image of the Confederacy as a unified front against the Union.
This riveting investigative account takes us inside the battle of Corinth, where thousands lost their lives over less than a quarter mile of land, and to the dreadful siege of Vicksburg, presenting a gritty picture of a war in which generals sacrificed thousands through their arrogance and ignorance. Off the battlefield, the Newton Knight story is rich in drama as well. He was a man with two loves: his wife, who was forced to flee her home simply to survive, and an ex-slave named Rachel, who, in effect, became his second wife. — Publisher’s Comment
Their Patriotic Duty: The Civil War Letters of the Evans Family of Brown County, Ohio edited by Robert F. Engs and Corey M. Brooks
Andrew Evans sent three sons off to war from his homestead on the Ohio River. They promised to write. One, Sam, succeeded mightily. The 273 letters between Andrew and Sam describe not only the ways of war but the battles at home to survive on the banks of a river with the plains all around. Andrew lets Sam know, just a little, how hard it is to manage without him, they tell each other about the weather, the marches, the planting of tomatoes, the fear on both sides that death would strike. As they and others of the family write we find a remarkable change. To various degrees they shed their racism and support the causes of the North, including a Black soldiery, and in a small amount of utopian reverie they allow themselves to believe equal rights for all races might be a good idea. — Book News
Gettysburg Heroes: Perfect Soldiers, Hallowed Ground by Glenn W. LaFantasie
“By and by, out of the chaos of trash and falsehood that newspapers hold, out of the disjointed mass of reports, out of the traditions and tales that come down from the field, some eye that never saw the battle will select[,] and some will write[,] what will be named the history. With that the world will be –and if we are alive we must be–content.” [Frank]Haskell, recognized as one of the finest soldier-writers of Gettysburg primary sources, is quoted by LaFantasie to explain the business of sorting the various interpretations of the battle. The 145 year construction effort by participants and historians to describe and explain the battle has produced a plethora of writing. Personally, [Civil War Librarian] shied away from this book for that reason, but after reading the first chapter LaFantasie won this reader over.
—Civil War Librarian
Popular historian Sword offers up much more than a series of sketches of heroic battlefield action in this free-ranging examination of moral and physical courage on both sides in the Civil War. Grounded in deep respect for the inner vision and strength required to exert “moral courage” in battles where hundreds of lives could be lost or saved with a single decision, these brief, fast-moving chapters present snapshots of many characters, primarily officers. Seen in action on the field of battle, their selflessness and physical courage under fire are evident. Sword also offers analyses of important strategic and battlefield decisions by the war’s top leaders. Sword praises Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, but has harsh words for Confederate generals P.G.T. Beauregard and Braxton Bragg and especially for Jefferson Davis over their lack of “moral courage” during a time of war. Davis’s self-righteousness and hubris, Sword contends, “perhaps contributed the most to the ultimate defeat of the Confederacy.” — Publishers Weekly
This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust
This is a readable history of the effect the Civil War’s death toll had on transforming American society and the way it looked at and handled death. Faust (Harvard) divides her text into eight chapters covering evocative issues about the war and its dead: “Dying,” “Killing,” “Burying,” “Naming,” “Realizing,” “Believing and Doubting,” “Accounting,” and “Numbering.” The text flows smoothly but is not trite. Excerpts from letters, diaries, journals, and other firsthand accounts sweep readers up in the pathos of the war’s carnage. The accounting is balanced, with both Union and Confederate observations. The magnitude of Civil War casualties transformed US attitudes toward death and dying, especially commemoration. New federal policies emerged regarding accounting for the number of war dead and the identification of remains. Emergency transport services evolved for handling the wounded. The overwhelming need for burial space became a public nightmare and a cause for public outcry. The national cemetery movement evolved from this period, as did the creation of national days of remembrance, such as Memorial Day, along with other regional commemorative days. — Choice
The Civil War and the Limits of Destruction by Mark E. Neely
The author, an accomplished scholar of the Civil War era in US history, continues a theme he has addressed in some of his earlier writings: the Civil War was not a “total war” in the way that term is understood in the 20th century. Using comparisons to other wars in other nations in the 19th and 20th centuries, Neely (Penn State) finds that the US Civil War was not nearly as bloody as conventional wisdom (and much scholarly wisdom) has held. Why not? Mainly because soldiers on both sides in the US fratricide recognized that they were the same sort of people. Unlike the bloody massacres that characterized much of the fighting in the Indian Wars or the deadly treatment of Mexican prisoners by the French in the 1860s, the warriors in blue and gray, while not perfect, did generally treat each other more humanely than most Americans have realized. Even the Civil War’s casualty figures, when examined from a different angle, point to a less destructive kind of war than even many scholars have recognized. Suitable for public and college libraries. — Choice