Great American Civil War Stories Cover

Great American Civil War Stories

Lamar Underwood

Lyons Press, Guilford, Connecticut, 2022, 332 pages

Book Review published on: September 1, 2023

In Great American Civil War Stories, Lamar Underwood compiles over a dozen unforgettable stories about the Civil War written by authors like Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Mark Twain, and Ambrose Bierce. The tales range from the first shots of the war at Fort Sumter to Robert E. Lee’s surrender at the Appomattox Courthouse. Most of the stories are firsthand accounts told by soldiers and officers from both sides of the war. However, civilian accounts of the war are also included. The account of the siege at Vicksburg told by Mark Twain is a recount of the story by a civilian couple who lived through the events and shared their experience with Twain. The intimacy of each story allows readers to see and feel the accounts of each event in a fresh and new way.

The book begins with the story “Lincoln at War: Prominent Letters and Papers.” The chapter provides exact correspondences between the president and his field commanders, mainly Gens. George B. McClellan, Joseph Hooker, and George Meade. The letters clearly show how intimately involved the president was in the conduct of the war. I was surprised at how direct the president was with his commanders. The president did not mince words and often provided excellent military advice. Although stern, Lincoln was always clear to allow the commander to lead and make the final decision on all military matters. However, Lincoln made clear that their objective was Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and not terrain.

Underwood’s selection of stories provides a unique and diverse description of the war. The familiar battles of Gettysburg, Antietam, and Chancellorsville are told from an individual and small unit level. The brutality, exhaustion, and fear of each account is experienced by the reader. In the story of Chancellorsville, Confederate Col. G. F. R. Henderson describes the loss of Stonewall Jackson and its impact on the soldier and battle itself. The chapter, titled “Army Life in a Black Regiment,” describes a Union officer’s view of the discipline and courage of the black soldier. Many men who had recently been slaves were now armed, trained, and ready to fight.

The story of Lee’s surrender at the Appomattox Courthouse told by Grant is fascinating. Grant explains in detail the circumstances that led to the unexpected meeting, while discounting rumors and untruths. The professionalism and respect demonstrated by each officer was noble. I was surprised by the lenient terms of surrender Grant presented to Lee. He knew Lincoln’s desire for quickly unifying the country after the war.

I recommend Great American Civil War Stories to anyone who enjoys American history. This one resource provides a new and intimate perspective of the war. The collection of tales in one volume makes for a quick and enjoyable read. The grammar and spelling are often left to its original form but only add to the intimacy of the story.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Robert B. Haines, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas