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62 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Civil War: The First Year, February 5, 2011
This review is from: The Civil War: The First Year Told by Those Who Lived It (Library of America #212) (Hardcover)
The year 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War. To commemorate the event, the Library of America has begun a four-volume series that will offer a year-by-year account of the war drawn from original sources. The first volume of the series has recently been published, covering roughly the first year of the conflict beginning in November, 1860, following the election of Abraham Lincoln, and concluding in January, 1862, when Lincoln replaced Simon Cameron as Secretary of War with Edwin Stanton. Brooks Simpson, Stephen Sears, and Aaron Sheehan-Dean, three distinguished Civil War scholars, selected the texts. They also prepared extensive supplemental information, including a detailed chronology of the war's first year, introductory headnotes for each textual entry, explanatory footnotes, biographies of the authors of each entry, and information on source material. This material helps greatly in understanding the text.

The 800-page volume is arranged in chronological order and covers virtually every important aspect of the war's first year from the perspectives of North and South. The entries are drawn from a broad range of sources, including legal documents, (such as Chief Justice Taney's decision in the habeaus corpus case, "Ex Parte Merriman" and the text of the First Confiscation Act) letters, speeches, military reports, nespaper articles, diaries, memoirs, and more. The book includes about 120 individual entries, many of which are substantial in length, by about 60 different authors. It covers military, political, diplomatic, economic, and personal issues resulting from the war as well as cultural responses -- poems by Melville and Whitman and songs such as "Let my People Go" and "John Brown's Body" are featured.

The selections are by both famous and obscure individuals, with a predominance of the former. For example, Abraham Lincoln is represented by his first Inaugural Address, his message to Congress in Special Session of July 4, 1861, his Annual Message to Congress of December 3, 1861, and be several shorter but crucial papers and letters. Jefferson Davis is represented by his farewell address to the United States Senate, his Inaugural Address of February 18, 1861, and his messages to the Confederate Congress of April and November 1861. Other well-known Civil War participants represented by entries include Frederick Douglass, U.S. Grant,Henry Adams, W.T. Sherman, Robert E. Lee, William Seward, and John Fremont, Horace Greeley, and George McClellan. There are two substantial entries by John Ross, Chief of the Cherokee Nation, regarding that Tribe's participation in the war.

The many entries by less familiar people include Sam Mitchell's, an aged former slave, recollections of the Union capture of the Sea Islands of South Cariolina, Union Soldier Sullivan Ballou's letter to his wife Sarah of July 14, 1861, in which Ballou expressed his devotion to her in anticipation of what he correctly feared would be his death in battle, a lengthy sermon by a Southern minister, Henry Tucker, on "God in the War" delivered on November 15, 1861, Confederate surgeon Lunsford Yandell's account of the Battle of Belmont, Missouri, in which the Union forces were commanded by U.S. Grant, diary entries by Richmond resident Sally Brock as well as the more familiar Mary Chestnut, and much more.

Some of the early entries in the book which cover the sucession debates in the Southern states were particularly informative. Almost every significant event in the book is covered by more than one entry, allowing the reader to see battles such as Fort Sumner, First Manassass, Belmont, Wilson's Creek, and Ball's Bluff from multiple perspectives. The narrative of the story develops slowly and on multiple fronts, so to speak, as the book proceeds from secession to the futile efforts before the war for compromise, to Fort Sumter and the growth of strong patriotic feelings and enlistments in both North and South. The Battle of First Manassas is the military centerpiece of the volume, and the book includes a map of the battlefield together with multiple entries, including an account by an English observer, William Howard Russell, of the chaotic Union retreat. The conflict between Lincoln and Fremont regarding emancipation of slaves in Missouri is presented in considerable detail, as is George McClellan with his substantial strengths and even more glaring weaknesses. Several entries late in the volume cover the "Trent Affair" in which the Union came dangerously close to war with Great Britain.

Those readers who have a good background knowledge of the Civil War will learn a great deal from reading this book with its extensive source material on the first year of the conflict. For readers lacking prior familiarity with the broad history of the war, this book with its detailed material on basically a single year of the conflict may pose a challenge. The head notes and chronology will ease such a reader along, but the book still may be a struggle. In general, this book will have a stronger appeal to students of the conflict than to newcomers.

The Library of America and the editors of the volume deserve praise and gratitude for this book and for its anticipated sucessor volumes. The volume collects a good deal of source material in one place. It will allow readers to learn about the Civil War and to reflect upon its continued importance to American life. I am looking forward to reading the following volumes in the series.

Robin Friedman
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 6, 2011 4:33:55 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 13, 2011 3:46:57 PM PST
I had just ordered the book and then noticed that you had reviewed it. Your review makes me even more comfortable having ordered this work! Nice job. . . .

Posted on Feb 6, 2011 10:27:10 PM PST
H. Schneider says:
hop into the cart!

Posted on Nov 30, 2013 8:37:49 AM PST
G. Gaia says:
Outstanding review. It is thorough and nuanced. Thank you.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 30, 2013 10:08:00 AM PST
Thank you very much for your kind comment.
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