Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
September Suspense: Lincoln's Union in Peril Hardcover – June 1, 2012
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
About the Author
Dennis E. Frye is the Chief Historian at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. In demand as a writer, lecturer, guide, and preservationist, he has appeared numerous times on PBS, The History Channel, The Discovery Channel, and A&E as a guest historian. He has helped produce award-winning television features on the Battle of Antietam and abolitionist John Brown. A prolific author with over 77 articles and seven books to his credit, his most recent book prior to September Suspense is Harpers Ferry Under Fire: A Border Town in the America Civil War. Dennis resides near the Antietam Battlefield in Maryland, where he and his wife Sylvia have restored the home that was used by General Ambrose Burnside as his post-Antietam headquarters.
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
He demonstrates how people of that time did not think a Union victory was a foregone conclusion. He does this by drawing from contemporary newspapers, which he terms the "last frontier of Civil War research." While thousands of books have been written about the American Civil War, newspapers are not widely used as sources. This was due to inaccessibility: contemporary newspapers hidden in curators' collections and stored on antique microfilm or microfiche media. Then came digitization and the worldwide web. As Frye says, "A research revolution was born." Also, as Frye points out, you "feel" history when you read a contemporary newspaper. With daily diaries and daily correspondence, newspapers show what is happening and what is being experienced by the people of the time. That, asserts Frye, is what history is all about: people, not just dates, facts, or memorized texts. In September Suspense, Dennis lets the people of the time speak for themselves, because, "They are marvelous story-tellers."
He does, however, take issue with some uses of "primary sources." A person who experienced an historic event is an invaluable source of information for historians, but Dennis takes exception with those who chronicle their participation long after the event had occurred. To illustrate, Frye cites Ed Bearss, who says he has stopped going to his Marine Corps reunions of World War II veterans, "Because every year more and more became a bunch of damn liars!" This, of course, makes all non-contemporary, post-event memoirs and accounts suspect. Historians too often accept the primary source as true without critical examination.
To illustrate, Dennis gives an example from the Antietam Battlefield. An exhibit at Bloody Lane once displayed a quotation from a "primary source," Edward Porter Alexander. It said that at the Battle of Antietam, "The End of the Confederacy was in Sight." The premise was that McClellan, with swift and bold action, could have captured Lee's army at Antietam and ended the Civil War right there. However, the quotation was from a Confederate ordnance officer's memoir written 30 years after the war. Moreover, research shows that Alexander was not at Antietam during the battle. The quotation at Bloody Lane's exhibit has since been removed. As Frye argues, "too much reflection time can change the historical perspective and alter the story significantly." Anyone familiar with Civil War historiography can confirm this observation. One might even argue that all written history is a "revision" of the reality of events.
From the contemporary Union view, McClellan's "victory" at Antietam was generally acclaimed for avoiding disaster, but not as a turning point leading to ultimate victory. Indeed, Lincoln himself was sufficiently dissatisfied with the "victory" to remove McClellan from command for failing to vigorously follow up. The Union press was divided about the political implications of the "victory." The New York Herald disapproved of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation as having been forced upon the nation by Abolitionists and Secessionists as an "overwhelming revolution in the system of labor." The New York Times, by contrast, lauded the proclamation by saying,"...no more important...document ever issued since the foundation of this Government." Only Horace Greeley's New York Tribune hailed it as "the beginning of the end of the Rebellion." Lincoln himself considered the proclamation a temporary war measure - a means to a still illusive military victory which could then become the pre-condition for a permanent constitutional emancipation of slaves.
From the contemporary Confederate view, McClellan's "victory" was not generally acknowledged as "decisive" in any sense. The Richmond Dispatch quoted Alexander R. Boteler, reporting directly from Lee's army, as saying the results at Sharpsburg were "decidedly in our favor, and the victory obtained by our forces, if not complete, at least great and satisfactory." The Petersburg Express reported, "The Confederate army, though opposed by largely superior numbers, again illustrated their valor and invincibility by successfully repelling the repeated onsets of the enemy...the re-crossing of the Potomac by our forces was...in no manner or degree prejudicial to our interests." Lee had withdrawn from Maryland, to be sure, but only after striking fear into hearts throughout the Yankee homeland and withdrawing in good order to fight another day.
Neither McClellan nor Lee could avoid the bias of personal perspective. After the battle, McClellan wrote his wife that the victory had been a "masterpiece of art" and announced "our victory complete." Neither was the case in fact. Lee, on the other hand, could find little positive in a failed invasion. As to the morale of his army, Lee wrote President Davis, "A great many men...never entered Maryland at all; many returned after getting there, while others who crossed the [Potomac] kept aloof...This is a woeful condition of affairs, and I'm pained to state it." Furthermore, "I am frank to say I was in favor of the movement into Maryland. I am equally ready to admit that...I now think it was a mistake." Perhaps so. Nonetheless, after a desperately brilliant battle in which Lee saved his army by the thinnest margin, the Army of Northern Virginia would go on to such success as to persuade Lincoln he might not be re-elected in 1864.
The assumption that the North was too powerful to ever be seriously threatened by disunion was not generally expressed by commentators and participants at the time.
The assumption that Antietam was a military turning point toward Union war victory and a political turning point that assured emancipation of the slaves was hardly acknowledged at the time. As Dennis Frye observes, "No historian can attain absolute truth. Even the people who write the very day about their moment in time insert their own prejudices, stereotypes, and interpretations into their memoir. It's natural - we're human." In short, the suspense of September, 1862, continued to the very end of the Civil War.
MICHAEL WATKINS: AUSTIN CIVIL WAR ROUNDTABLE
Newspapers of the Civil War era are a fountain of information on the material aspects of life and political disputes. During the era there was no unbiased reporting of political news; there was lots of speculation. "Newspapers bring us closer to people and allow us to be there when they make their history" remarks Dennis Frye in his introduction to September Suspense: Lincoln's Union in Peril. During the first week of September of 1862 no one knew the outcome of the Confederate invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania, the fall elections, and the revelation of an emancipation proclamation.
Frye relies heavily on southern and northern newspapers and diaries but not those written after the autumn of 1862. Such reliance provides an immediacy which is usually not offered in most Civil War books. Over 35 newspapers were consulted. Frye's narrative is sharp and concise. His pacing of the chapters creates an undercurrent of a 'you are there' suspense. This is reminiscent of of John Michael Priest's use of only diaries and letters of privates, corporals, sergeants, captains and lieutenants in Antietam: A Soldier's Battle and Before Antietam: The Battle of South Mountain.
In September Suspense: Lincoln's Union in Peril readers wrestle with American abolitionists and slaveholders, British politicians and American bankers, retail merchants and marauding soldiers, presidents and their cabinets, war governors and army generals, men and women on the street and soldiers in the ranks. There is a suspense in Frye's work that moves readers forward through these American lives.
The appendices are not 'toss in the kitchen sink' material. The first appendix is the Confederate Terms of Peace published on September 11, 1862 in the Philadelphia Inquirer which was copied from and editorial appearing in the Richmond Enquirer and a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial response to it. The second appendix is General Lee's Proclamation to the People of Maryland that was made September 8, 1862 and a third appendix discusses the dilemma of attempting to ascertain how many Confederate troops crossed into Maryland the first days of September. Each is an essential document that readers in September 1862 held in their hands and read. In September Suspense: Lincoln's Union in Peril Frye achieves his goal of having the reader 'feel history', enter 'a time machine' and 'live the moment' with those who passed passed, day by day, through a suspenseful month when the Union was in peril