Sunday, May 12, 2013

Review: The Civil War, The Second Year Told By Those Who Lived It

Edited by Stephen Sears

“The Civil War: The Second Year Told By Thos Who Lived It,” is the second volume in The Library of America’s four volume series of first person accounts from America’s bloodiest war.  Covering the second year of the war, this volume spans from January 1862 to January 1863, and much like its preceding first volume it covers the war from nearly every conceivable vantage: Union and Confederate; North and South; the Eastern and the Western Theaters; men and women; civilians, soldiers and politicians; slaves, free blacks, abolitionists and slaveholders.

Culled from thousands of newspaper articles, diaries and journals, letters, memoirs and official documents, editor Stephen Sears, has collected the richest historical documents and presented them chronologically.  Separately, each document is a historical artifact; together they are a sometimes poignant, often dramatic, portrait of the war’s second year.

Nearly panoramic in its scope, “The Civil War: The Second Year Told By Thos Who Lived It,” covers such notable events as the fall of Forts Henry and Donelson, the Battle of Pea Ridge, the battle of Hampton Roads (USS Monitor vs. CSS Virginia), The Battle of Shiloh, the fall of New Orleans, the Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days Battles, the Battle of Antietam, and the battles of Iuka, Corinth, Perryville, Chickasaw Bayou, and Stones River.

Abraham Lincoln’s evolving views on the subject are clearly shown through these original documents:  from Lincoln’s March 6th, 1862 Message to Congress about compensated emancipation to his Message to Congress on April 16th on the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia; from Lincoln’s revoking of General David Hunter’s emancipation order on May 19th to his appeal to the border state representatives on July 12th for compensated emancipation of the slaves; from the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation on July 22, to his August 14th address on colonization; from his reply to Horace Greeley’s “The Prayer of Twenty Millions” on August 22nd to the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22nd; and finally his signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863.  The fact that this second volume of the series begins with Frederick Douglass’s essay “What Shall Be Done with the Slaves if Emancipated?” and ends with the Emancipation Proclamation is a theme that should not be missed.

Among other notable inclusions is Robert E. Lee’s “Special Orders No. 191,” the “lost order” of the Maryland Campaign.  Though, one curious omission is the Horace Greeley’s open letter to Abraham Lincoln, “The Prayer of Twenty Millions.”

Among those whose documents are included in this volume are of course Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, United States Generals George B. McClellan, Lew Wallace, Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, David Hunter, John Pope, Henry W. Halleck, Alpheus S. Williams, George G. Meade, and Ambrose Burnside; Confederate Generals Braxton Bragg, Richard Taylor, Robert E. Lee and Edward Porter Alexander; Diarists John B. Jones, Kate Stone, Charles B. Hayden, Judith W. McGuire, George Templeton Strong, James Richmond Boulware, Charles B. Labruzan, Orville H. Browning and Cyrus F. Boyd; political figures Gideon Welles, Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates, John Hay, Charles Sumner, Charles Francis Adams and Francis Preston Blair; literary figures Julia Ward Howe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Emily Dickinson , Herman Melville, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman and Louisa May Alcott; Frederick Douglass, Clara Barton and Sam Watkins, author of “Co. Aytch”

Mr. Sears has included a brief introductory paragraph, placing the document that follows in its proper historical context, and giving additional information wherever warranted.  The documents themselves are a view into the historical past, given to us by those who witnessed the events they themselves wrote about.  Most often only briefly referenced in history books, the ability to read the whole document gives its reader a sense of immediacy that cannot be gotten any other way.

ISBN 978-1598531442, Library of America, © 2012, Hardcover, 936 pages, Maps, Chronology, Biographical Notes, Note on the Texts, Notes & Index. $40.00.  To purchase this book click HERE.

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