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Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War Paperback – September 17, 1994

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 848 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (September 17, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393312569
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393312560
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5 x 2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #521,304 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The period of the American Civil War was not one in which belles lettres flourished but it did produce a remarkable literature which mostly consists of speeches and pamphlets, private letters and diaries, personal memoirs and journalistic reports. Has there ever been another historical crisis of the magnitude of 1861-65 in which so many people were so articulate?

When Edmund Wilson wrote those words in the fall of 1961, the literature of the Vietnam War had yet to be written, but his point remains well taken. Patriotic Gore is a remarkable survey of Civil War literature, encompassing generals, society ladies, and novelists alike. The readings of these works are suffused throughout by Wilson's literary attentiveness and--occasionally--flashes of humor. Of Abraham Lincoln, for example, he writes, "There has undoubtedly been written about him more romantic and sentimental rubbish than about any other American figure, with the possible exception of Edgar Allan Poe; and there are moments when one is tempted to feel that the cruelest thing that has happened to Lincoln since he was shot by Booth has been to fall into the hands of Carl Sandburg."

Certainly one finds the books and personages that one would expect to find within these pages--Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Mary Chestnut--but there are plenty of revelations for those who are not already intimately familiar with the period, such as the possible debt the realism of The Red Badge of Courage owes to the novelist John De Forest, or the charming erudition of Confederate general Richard Taylor. The editorial board of the Modern Library determined Patriotic Gore to be one of the 100 best nonfiction works of the 20th century. Whatever one thinks of the list as a whole, nobody who reads this book can begrudge the board that decision. --Ron Hogan


“Our American Plutarch . . . a great book. It was not only the greatest single performance of Wilson's unique career as a man of letters. . . it made the passion that went into the war, and into the disillusion that followed it, more affecting than any other contemporary book on this greatest of national experiences.” (Alfred Kazin)

“[Patriotic Gore] has long enjoyed a special and respected place as one of the most remarkable and readable books about the greatest tragedy in American history.” (C. Vann Woodward)

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43 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Candace Scott on December 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
Edmund Wilson produced this classic look at civil war literature more than forty years ago and it remains essential reading for anyone professing an interest in the great American conflict. Wilson brought much to the table: a beautiful, restrained writing style and a prodigious understanding of the civil war and its primary players. His magnificent analysis of Ulysses S. Grant's memoirs remains the best and most often-quoted ode to these books. Wilson's tribute to Grant's memoirs is the crux of the book, but his ancillary analysis of other civil war works is also riveting and instructive.
"Patriotic Gore" is not only great literature, it's truly one of the best books I've ever read. It deserves a place on any serious civil war historian's bookshelf.
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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By M. Nesbit on September 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
I am knowledgeable about the Civil War and its literature. In fact, you would think I'd be heartily sick of the subject by now. I sometimes feel that I have over-grazed this favorite topic. However, Wilson is simply wonderful in this book. He makes the whole antebellum era and the war years live again. His opinions are orignal and well stated. He has picked both famous and obscure books/authors to discuss at greater or lesser length depending on what he has new to say about them and on whether or no the subject in hand has, through disuse, disappeared from the knowledge of man. If you are interested in this period but are tired of the same old things, Wilson can point you down paths you could never find by yourself.
I found the introduction a little too ideological to my taste but otherwise the book is darned near perfect.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey A. Cohen on August 22, 2000
Format: Paperback
I'm surprised no one more learned than I in the literature of the American Civil War has yet reviewed this book. I came to it in an attmept to get a sense of the literary quality of the various memoirs and writings left by prominent participants in that momentous struggle, after being surprised that U.S. Grant's memoirs are held in high regard by critics. Wilson's book is a very compelling read (so far - I haven't yet finished it), giving the reader a vivid impression of the ideologies of the time and the pervasive and somewhat high-strung religiosity that influenced their development. Wilson's style is a pleasure, the product of a highly attentive intelligence informed by deep, but lightly-worn, learning. It's surprising how recently this book was written, since Wilson's voice resonates to these ears (educated in the jargon and vulgarities of the late-20th-century university) with the timbre of another, more civilized age.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Timothy P. Stallcup on April 27, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Wilson was probably the preeminent American critic of the 20th century because he brought to his writing a great breadth and depth of learning, a sure critical sense, and a powerful, flexible and polished prose that is always suited to his subject. Moreover, when Wilson tackled a subject (as he did elsewhere, say, with Dickens) he really mastered not only his subject material, but also the history, biography and other writing that illuminated and placed it into context. Wilson brought all these exceptional qualities to this fine book, the interest of which may, however, be limited by its subjects, namely a host of authors whom we barely know and almost never read. This is not a knock on Wilson or the book; however, if you are not a dedicated student of the period, you might think twice before embarking on this obscure journey.

As Wilson states in the Introduction (a fascinating glimpse into Wilson's personality and politics), Patriotic Gore deals with about 30 individuals who left a lasting record of their experiences of or involvement in some aspect of the Civil War. Of course, he treats the memoirists, like Grant and Sherman, and the lesser known Mosby and Taylor. Notably, both Grant's and Sherman's memoirs recently have been re-issued by Library of America, both make excellent reading, and Wilson's comments on all are most insightful. Similarly, and partly due to the Ken Burns series, Mary Chesnut and her enormous diary have become reasonably well known to this generation, and Wilson's chapter on three southern woman diarists is equally strong.

In fact, Wilson's skills never flag. He has a wonderful chapter that more than does justice to Harriet Beecher Stowe and might even drive one to attempt Uncle Tom's Cabin.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Frances C. Fowler on February 11, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Patriotic Gore" was written over fifty years ago by Edmund Wilson, one of the major American literary critics of the mid-twentieth century. In 793 pages and sixteen chapters he discusses and assesses the literary work of thirty or so writers, North and South, who wrote about the Civil War or the Civil War era. They include political figures (such as Lincoln and Alexander H. Stephens), military leaders (such as Sherman, Grant, Lee, and Mosby), as well as writers of fiction and poetry. Those who enjoy literature or are interested in the period will find Wilson's insights fascinating and his graceful prose easy to read. Undoubtedly, they will also encounter new authors and gain a new understanding of American literature and culture.

The book begins with a controversial 23-page introduction in which Wilson presents his own understanding of the Civil War--and of all modern wars--as well as of Abraham Lincoln. Even though he was born and raised in New Jersey, Wilson saw the Civil War as an imperialistic war of conquest on the part of the North, hypocritically justified by the "rabble-rousing moral issue" of slavery. In his view, Lincoln was an "uncompromising dictator" comparable to Lenin and Bismarck. Wilson's position is thought-provoking, to say the least; but it also helps prepare the reader for his dispassionate handling of all the writers he discusses. To him, they are not representatives of a noble cause and a despicable one but rather a group of perceptive men and women swept up in a catastrophic social crisis and trying to understand it as best they can. This perspective confers upon "Patriotic Gore" a rare compassion for and sympathy with the people of the era, regardless of their allegiance.
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