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Fateful Lightning is an excellent one volume history of the Civil War era by Dr. Allen C. Guezlo,
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This review is from: Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction (Paperback)Dr. Allen C. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War era at Gettysburg College. Dr. Guelzo has written a heaving shelf of well received books dealing with Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War era. His new one volume history of the Civil War "Fateful Lightning" is a small print 536 hefty pages in the Oxford paperback edition. The book is illustrated with period drawings and contains a detailed bibliography which will whet the appetite of Civil War buffs & historians and general readers. The book is a scholarly master effort and is the best one volume history of the war since Dr. James McPherson's peerless "The Battle Cry of Freedom." A caveat: this book is NOT STRICTLY A MILITARY HISTORY OF THE WAR containing detailed accounts of battles! There are many such books as these. What Guelzo has done is look at America during this horrific time of civil war thorugh the eyes of a social historian. Guelzo examines in detail such issues as:
a. The plight of slavery and the divisive battles in Congress in pre-bellum American society to deal with this horrible and divisive "peculiar institution." Many pages are discussed to explaining the ramificationos the Missouri Compromise of 1820; the Compromise of 1850; the Kansas-Nebraska popular sovereignity Act of 1854 and the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision which stated that slaves were not citizens and owners did not have to relinquish their ownership of chattel servants. Leaders discussed in this time were Henry Clay; Daniel Webster and John Calhoun. Weak presidents were unable to deal with slavery; John Tyler; Franklin Pierce and the inept James Buchanan among others.
b. The role of women, native Americans, immigrants and African Americans are explored in depth.
c. The technology of modern warfare; the care of the wounded and the importance of the Union naval blockade are discussed.
d. The role of Protestant evangelicism in the rise of abolitionism is discussed as well as Southern religion and the lives lived by Jews and Roman Catholics is described.
e. Many pages deal with the life and career of President Abraham Lincoln from life on the Kentucky frontier to his assassination in Ford's Theatre on April 14, 1865 by John Wilkes Booth. Only with Lincoln's wise leadership and eloquent speech was the Union able to triumph over the Confederacy led by Presidet Jefferson Davis.
f. Guelzo looks at the literary works of the era as they are reflected by events during the war. Walt Whitman's poetry is especially moving and germane.
g. Union and Confederate diplomacy is explored especially regarding relationships with Great Britain and France.
h. Battles and campaigns are briefly covered and their role in strategy is presented to the reader.
Throughout this learned tome the author makes extensive quotes from the speeches, diaries, letters and unit histories of everyone from Lincoln to the common soldier. Guelzo has done his homework to make this book come alive in the mind of the reader!
If I were teaching a class on the Civil War era I would use this book as a textbook along with McPherson's "The Battle Cry of Freedom" and Shelby Foote's monumental three volume set on the American Illiad. As a veteran reader of Civil War literature I would highly recommend "Fateful Lightning" for your 150th anniversary of the Civil War reading!
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 3, 2012 2:50:37 AM PDT
H. M. Gold says:
Thanks for this insightful review. I have read McPherson's "The Battle Cry of Freedom" as well as Shelby Foote's three volume set, and I look forward to reading this book....
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 3, 2012 9:38:06 AM PDT
Marc W. Schneider says:
Agree. Great review.
Posted on Nov 11, 2012 3:44:03 AM PST
Thomas Plotkin says:
I bought this based on the excellent review herein; I read this back-to-back with McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom, and the books basically complement each other. Guelzo's book almost deliberately chooses to focus where McPherson does not, namely social and economic history, and where they overlap, Guelzo often avoids repetition by relying on excellent quotes from primary sources that the synthesist McPherson did not use. The only section that felt like a recap of the earlier book was the chapter on the naval war and blockade. As an aside, while McPherson is a fine writer, Guelzo possesses a chattier, breezier and wittier style that made the book actively fun to read.
In reply to an earlier post on Nov 11, 2012 6:18:30 AM PST
H. M. Gold says:
@Thomas---Now that I have finished Guelzo's book I have to say I agree with you..Both books (McPherson's and Guelzo's) are so worth one's time to read them...
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